Macduff Everton

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Suzie’s bichon frisés and slippahs

The Blue Ginger, a simple one-room café where customers help themselves to the coffee brewing on a side table, is jammed this morning. In the back I spot Derwin at a table with a couple of older guys and a woman about his age. He puts a hand up and beckons me over, introducing me to the old guys and the woman who turns out to be his sister, Nani.

Blue Ginger photo by David Lansing

Blue Ginger photo by David Lansing


“Dis guy want to hear stories of old Lanai,” Derwin tells his sister. “Maybe you talk story.”

Nani laughs and says she’s been trying to hear those stories herself for a good number of years. Before they’re all forgotten. She says that she was one of those kids that got off the island the minute she graduated from high school. “And I swore I’d never come back, but then my kapuna auntie said, ‘It’s time.’ And when I came back, she started telling me the old stories. But the she died. And I’ve been asking all the old aunties on the island for those stories ever since.”

While Nani and I talked story, Darwin and some of the older guys talked quietly about more pressing issues. Like the free upcoming community lunch, for seniors, later in the day in Dole Park. Derwin told the men they still needed a baker, a butcher, and yes, a candlestick maker.

After breakfast, I walked around Lanai City. There’s not much to it. You walk down one side of Dole Park, shaded by the ubiquitous Cook Island pines, past a bank, two small grocery stores, two cafes—including Café 565 which, in addition to serving their special Korean and katsu chicken daily, according to a sign, also has holiday pupuus—and the world famous Lanai jail, which is really just a modified shipping container with a locked door on it that hasn’t been opened in this century.

I wandered in to the Dis ‘n’ Dat store, mostly because they had this terrific tin hula girl, decorated in Christmas lights, stuck to a palm tree outside the store. Sitting in a green wicker chair on the porch was a middle-aged woman with red glasses and a big floppy hat playing the ukulele. At her feet were two bichon frisés, curly white-haired lap dogs that were so quiet and perfectly groomed that I thought at first they were stuffed animals.

Dis 'n' Dat Shop photo by Macduff Everton

Dis ‘n’ Dat Shop photo by Macduff Everton

The woman playing the ukulele was Suzie Osman. She and her husband, Barry, own Dis ‘n’ Dat. They are originally from New York (and still have very heavy New Yorker accents) where they used to own a toy business (“I’ve always liked sparkly, happy stuff,” Barry said).

Suzie told me she was just messing around on the ukulele. “I taught myself to play it when we moved here nine years ago,” she said. Then she gave me a big smile and said, “I also do the hula.”

Barry said the store has been here since 1961 and it’s always been called Dis ‘n’ Dat even when it was the post office. “I was going to call it something different,” Barry said, “but the locals told me it would be bad luck to change the name. Besides, everyone in town likes the sign. So we just left it the way it was.”

I had a hard time walking around the shop. There are like a million wind chimes hanging from the ceiling and you have to be a midget or something not to get smacked in the forehead all the time (Suzie and Barry are almost as squat as their two bichons). Suzie designs some of the jewelry in the store, including these Hawaiian slippah pendants, which are very cool. There are pink slippahs and slippahs with hibiscus on them and even slippahs in an American flag motif. I liked all of them—the keychains and necklaces, earring and bracelets. So I bought like a dozen of them. I have no idea who I’m going to give them to. Maybe I’ll keep them for myself. And start a collection. Of Hawaiian slippah jewelry. 

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Shipwreck beach and the mad dog

It’s late in the day and I’m sick and tired of going down dead-end roads and hiking through prickly scrub over treacherous volcanic rock looking for petroglyphs, but Macduff is adamant we keep looking. So we bump and grind our way along the island’s northeast coast until the road (if you can call it that) ends at an old fisherman’s hut where a faded sign in front of a palm-frond fence says DANGER: Be-Aware of the Visayan Mad Dog.”

photos by David Lansing

photos by David Lansing

“There’s your Hawaiian culture right there,” Macduff says, pointing at the sign.

I have no idea what a Visayan mad dog is (is that a breed?) but no matter; we ignore the sign and pass by the falling-down shack. Tradewinds, roaring down the Kolohi channel between here and Molokai, howl like goblins along the beach. A spindly tree, stripped of all vegetation, leans like a drunk away from the ocean. Waves roll across a rusty WWII-era Liberty ship wrecked on the reef just off-shore (and hence, I suppose, the reason for why this area is called Shipwreck Beach). A trail leads up a bumpy hill through scrubby gullies pockmarked with large volcanic rocks. Somewhere up here, supposedly, are petroglyphs.

Macduff and I trudge through prickly vegetation in flip-flops for half an hour in the diminishing light as the wind slams us around, searching for the elusive ancient markings but find only bleached animal bones (cattle? deer? dog?), scurrying geckos, and a nervous chukar or two which, when startled, run through the bush like children hiding from bogeymen.

Our search for petroglyphs is fruitless. As darkness falls, we hurry down the hill and past the home of the Visayan mad dog. In the twilight, we bounce like pinballs in the Jeep down the washed-out road, headed for the comfort of the Lodge and a different sort of Shipwreck—this one drinkable.

I may have two this evening. My idea of Hawaiian culture. 

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Shooting pond scum

I hate traveling with photographers. They’re always screaming about “The light! The light!” Like Tattoo announcing the arrival of “De plane! De plane!” on Fantasy Island. Hell, I said the same thing to Macduff over drinks in the Honolulu airport as we waited for our connecting flight to Lanai.

“I despise photographers,” is what I said. He took a gulp of his single malt and replied, “They’re all right in a way. In fact, I’m rather good friends with a few of them. But I get your drift. They can be a pain in the ass sometimes, there’s no denying it.”

Said this as if he weren’t talking about himself, which he was, of course, because he is a professional photographer. And a very good one. One of the best. But he’s also an incredible pain in the ass.

I’ll show you what I mean. Yesterday morning we were driving down to Manele Bay which heads south from Lanai City and immediately drops down into Palawai Basin. Gorgeous drive. Palawai means “pond scum” and is so named because of the fog that often pools here early in the morning. This is the heart of the old pineapple lands. The earth is bright red and the high grass, growing where the pineapple fields used to be, is lime green. And there’s a long stretch of two-lane road, just past the turnoff to the airport, that is straight as a rail and lined with Cook pines (which look just like Norfolk pines, and that’s what most people think they are, but actually the only Norfolk pine on the island is up at the Lodge at Koele and that’s a different story).

photo by David Lansing

photo by David Lansing

Anyway, we’re zooming down Manele Road and suddenly Macduff grabs my arm and says, “Pull over! Now!” He wants to take a picture. Fine. I mean, how long can it take to snap a photo of an empty road. So I pull over and he gets his camera bag and starts looking around like he’s Baz Freakin’ Luhrmann and he’s setting up a shot in the Outback for Nicole Kidman and he wants to make sure the light is just right and everything. So he gets his light meter out and he stands right in the middle of the road and shoots about four thousand photos and then he goes and stands in the low-cut grass on the right and shoots another two- or three-thousand photos and then he changes lenses and shoots some more and then he wants me to get a different camera bag out of the Jeep so he can shoot another eight thousand shots with a different camera.

And while he’s doing all this, I get out my little Canon and take exactly one photo of him. Just so you’ll know what I’m talking about. About an hour later, he’s finally finished shooting his masterful shot of the empty road. And this is what it looks like.

photo by Macduff Everton

photo by Macduff Everton

Now you tell me: Was it worth it?

Well, yeah, maybe.

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I’m in a standoff. There is no way Shantell is going to hand over the keys to my rental Jeep until I initial the form she’s thrust at me that acknowledges, in legal-eze, that she has given me a map of the island of Lanai with most of its off-roads stamped NOT ACCESSIBLE in one-inch-high red letters and, should I ignore her emphatic instructions and drive on said roads and need to be towed or, god forbid, cause any damage to the Jeep, I will be one sorry kanapapiki. Which is Hawaiian slang for sonofabitch.

The problem, as I see it, is that the roads she has forbidden me to navigate happen to be the ones also marked with funny little symbols of a stick man with his arms out like a scarecrow, signifying places on the island where one might find petroglyphs. And searching for Hawaiian petroglyphs is the main reason Macduff Everton and I have come to Lanai in the first place.

When I explain this to Shantell, she frowns and says, “Why you want to look at petroglyphs anyhow? Not much to see.”

I explain that Macduff, a California-based photographer, has lured me here in a search of authentic Hawaiian culture. Which confuses Shantell even more.

“Like what?”

“Like that old time-y Lanai stuff. Stories about the pineapple plantation days, paniolo songs, old archaeological sites. That sort of thing. Know what I mean?”

Shantell just frowns. “If you don’t sign, you don’t rent Jeep.”

At which point Macduff leans in close to me and whispers. “Just sign the goddamn form. I’ll drive the Jeep. They’ll never know the difference.”

Yeah, right. As long as he doesn’t get us stuck on one these unpaved roads marked NOT ACCESSIBLE. Against my better judgment, I sign the form promising I won’t drive anywhere I’m not supposed to. And I won’t. Macduff will. Let’s just hope it all works out.

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