Hawaiian culture

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Learning to play the ukulele

Here’s my New Year’s resolution: I’m going to learn to play the ukulele and start a band called  #7 Road. I decided to do this last night while Macduff and I were sitting in the Hale Ahe Ahe Lounge listening to our cocktail waitress, Camille, sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” during one of her breaks.

“Look,” I said to Macduff, “if the cocktail waitress can get up on stage in front of a hundred people or so and sing an old Judy Garland song, why shouldn’t we as well?”

Well, said Macduff, probably because neither of us can sing and Camille can. He had a point. Then he slapped my knee and said, “But I can play the conch. What do you play?”

Nothing, I told him. “Well, hell, why don’t you take up the ukulele,” he said. “It’s easier than playing the conch.”

So this morning I went down to a little gift shop in Lanai City and bought a ukulele with pineapples embossed on the top. And if Suzie is around over at the Dis ‘n’ Dat store later today, I’m going to see if she’ll show me how to tune it and pick a chord or two. How hard can it be? It’s only got four strings.

photo by Macduff Everton

photo by Macduff Everton

As for how we decided to name our band #7 Road, well that’s another story. We were driving down one of those roads we weren’t supposed to be driving down to the Garden of the Gods. We were driving, driving, driving and not really seeing anything but a tobacco-colored road and grass as high as an elephant’s eye, as they say in Oklahoma, when all of a sudden there was a turnoff going to only-god-knows where. There was just this one little sign that said #7 Road. And Macduff said, “Let me take your picture next to that road sign.”

Why? I asked him.

“Because,” he said, “it will be perfect for our album cover.”

So there you have it. The album cover for #7 Road. Which we expect to put out just as soon as we can convince Camille to join our band and I learn how to play the ukulele. Stay tuned. 

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Searching for Hawaiian culture

God help us, we’re back to driving on roads marked NOT ACCESSIBLE on the map Shantell gave us at the rental car agency. This is our third day searching for Hawaiian petroglyphs, which we’ve yet to find.

“Why do you want to shoot petroglyphs anyway?” I ask Macduff. “They’re just ancient graffiti left by a bored teenager tired of hunting for wild pigs.”

“Culture!” shouts Macduff. “I thought we were searching for Hawaiian culture.”

A front wheel sinks into a gully in the road and the bottom of the Jeep scrapes something hard. There’s a thack! as something flies up and strikes the undercarriage, all of which Macduff ignores.

“Not that sort of culture,” I say.

“Then what?”

“I don’t know. The old time-y Hawaiian stuff. Pineapples and authentic hula, that sort of thing.”


“Authentic hula? Hah! That’s your idea of Hawaiian culture?”

“You know what I mean.”

“Haven’t a clue.”

Actually, I haven’t a clue either. When I decided to come to Lanai, the smallest of Hawaii’s inhabited islands, to search for Polynesian culture, I was thinking about Hawaii the way it supposedly was fifty years ago, when, on their honeymoon, my parents, Tom and Joan, took the SS Lurline from Los Angeles to Honolulu and spent a glorious week at the Royal Hawaiian on Waikiki, the “Pink Palace of the Pacific.” I was thinking about the stories my parents told me as a child of “old Hawaii”—the sacred chants, story-telling dances, the odd tales of fire gods and shark kings—before it became the 50th state in 1959 and the stylish Matson Line cruise, which my parents took, was replaced by middle–class throngs flying over on Pam-Am and TWA.

It reminds me of how every year, on their anniversary, my mom would bake a pineapple upside-down cake, just like they had at the Royal Hawaiian, and my dad would put on an album of old slack key guitar music and make a batch of pina coladas, and when they were looped enough, my mom would giggle her way through the hula before collapsing on my dad’s lap. That, to me, as a kid growing up in Southern California, was what Hawaiian culture was all about.

But, of course, that’s crazy. Like saying French culture is madeleine cookies and Maurice Chevalier crooning “Thank ‘eaven for lit-el girls.” Or Vegas culture is Liberace in a rhinestone-studded sequin suit and a fake pirate ship shooting off a canon in a wading-pool-deep lagoon. Okay, maybe that is Vegas culture, but certainly there has to be more to Hawaii than petroglyphs and pineapples, right?

But what?

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