Makena Beach, 2016

by Marisa Mangani


     I sleep on the beach. Mom and Dad don’t know I am homeless. They’re back in Oakland thinking I’m staying at a friend’s house here in Maui. But I have a job, a ’62 rusty Dodge van, my guitar, and a soft, sandy white spot on Makena Beach. I haven’t had a haircut in six months and I’m happier than ever. High school, good ol’ class of ’77 was a drag, everyone expecting me to be a basketball jock cuz I was the tallest guy in the class, when I just wanted to play guitar. But school’s over and I’m finally free, really free. The other beach people don’t care that I don’t say much. They think I’m a great guitar player. We hang out, smoke weed.  I’m just one of the gang. Everything’s cool.

I work at Longhi’s, a really hip restaurant in Lahaina. I started as a dishwasher, but people quit and get fired a lot so now I make salads. Longhi’s is where I first met Mango. His real name’s Dennis. He plays guitar too, but everyone calls him Mango because he walks around sucking the ripe local fruit, calling it, “Mother Nature’s tit.” I respect him. He’s older than the rest of us who hang out and play music and get high. He’s twenty-six––real old if you ask me––and he’s been around. We all listen when he talks politics and stuff. He calls himself The Homeless Elite cuz they let him sleep at the restaurant sometimes in return for odd jobs. He taught me about swiping the bread baskets off outdoor restaurant tables when I’m hungry. I’m not hungry much since I work at a restaurant, but stealing bread is fun. He says I’m spoiled cuz I can go home to Mom and Dad anytime, to that big, white bread house in Oakland, but no way, never. I like being on my own. And if I’m ever hungry, I know where to scam bread.

The fun thing about Longhi’s is the celebrities. The whole Fleetwood Mac band eats there all the time, and they’re so famous now since Rumors came out. I like their older music, though when Lindsey Buckingham shreds it on his guitar. In fact, table 17, the corner booth where Mango sleeps is their regular table. I’ve seen Stevie Nicks there, she’s really cute. Willie Nelson comes in sometimes, so does Jackson Brown. All of us in the kitchen sneak a peek when we get word a musician is in the dining room. When Mango, Lono and me play music out on Front Street after work, I hope a celebrity will walk by and be impressed. Isn’t that stupid?

But we’re good musicians. Mango and me, we play great together. We anticipate each other’s moves. And when Lono shows up with his bongos and that voice, we’re a trio. People give us more tips when Lono plays with us cuz he’s taught us some Hawaiian tunes. He hangs with us only sometimes. Lono is what you’d call Hawaiian lucky. He lives with his parents and went to Kamehemeha, a private school because of his native blood and will probably go to college soon. But I have the feeling he wants to be like us.  I think he’s torn between college and being a starving artist. That’s what we are you know, starving artists. So Lono joins us sometimes on the streets in Lahaina for jams and sometimes on the beach at Makena for getting high, then crashing. And he brings us cold beer and food from his parents’ fridge. He talks funny. ‘Pidgin English’ they call it. I know the lingo now: pakalolo is pot, da kine means good, shakah means all right. And den der’s da way do harden da ‘t’ and drop da lettas off da end of  da words to make you sound like you from hea’. But when you’re white, even if you speak da slang, locals don’t like you. Even local haoles, white people, the ones born here, aren’t trusted. Funny, in Oakland, I never understood the blacks. Now, I’m the minority. I’m lumped in with rich, white tourists who spoil the land. I’m on the locals’ side, but they won’t believe that cuz I’m white. Isn’t that weird?

Lance is another guy who hangs out sometimes. He’s something. Scary, if you ask me. He’s a local haole, born and raised on Maui. Born with anger out his butt. I guess we let him hang out cuz he’s got good pakalolo. He never comes to Lahaina and he doesn’t play any music, but he shows up at Makena Beach sometimes with pot and beer and we hang out. Mango talks to him more than anyone. Cuz Mango’s fascinated by freaks. When Lance is around, I talk mainly to Lono. I get weird vibes from Lance, especially when I’m stoned.

Lance never sleeps on the beach. He gets high and goes off somewhere. Just like he left tonight. Lono stays, cuz there’s a full moon and it shines above the black ocean water like a giant eye. The ocean is a throbbing being. I can see its pulse. Not like the gray-dead waters of the California Bay Area. The Hawaiian Islands float on the ocean’s heartbeat.

Lono levels his bongos into the sand.

Pa-ta-dum, pa-ta-dum, pa-ta-dum- pa dum-dum.

I grab my guitar and fill in the movements, picking lead notes that the trees are envious of.

Mango starts to chant, then stops, because he can’t sing. Then he strums to our beat and the ocean’s pulse. I hear the waves charge back and forth like another instrument to our band. For a long time, we are one with the ocean.

Then Lono breaks our trance. “Wow! Man, awe-sum!” He jumps up from his bongos like a clown, that white grin flashing in the night. I’m sorta relieved because I was so far away, not knowing if I’d ever come back to earth. Mango starts moaning, his head moving up and down, up and down, while his body sways. Lono and me, we pull out our sleeping bags, lay them flat, and turn in. I fall asleep, instantly swallowed by the Hawaiian night.

Mornings at Makena Beach are beyond beautiful. Each dawn, the Pacific is a different shade of blue. I usually wake slow and peaceful to the sound of soft waves, mynah birds squawking, and the gradual heat of the sun pouring over me. But this morning is different. I hear strange voices and I’m afraid to open my eyes. When I do, I see two Japanese men wearing white shorts, short-sleeved business shirts, each carrying a camera and a briefcase. They are walking around the beach, pointing to the dry kiawe brush lining the shore, jabbing their fingers toward the horizon.

Mango stirs then bolts upright. I hear him say, “What the fuck?”

He’s on his feet and shaking his fist at the Japs. “Hey you, what you doing on our beach?”

Those Japs, they just look at him, blank like. I don’t know what’s going on, but I smell trouble. So I turn to Mango. “Hey, cool it, man, I don’t think they understand English.”

Mango ignores me. “Hey, you rich Japs! See this guy here?” He points to Lono, who’s just sat up, yawning. “This man owns this island! You can’t buy your way in here. He’s a fucking Hawaiian, man. I’m his friend and we don’t want you here. So get back on your special little plane and go back to your special little country.”

He’s red-faced, jumping up and down in the sand. The Japs look frightened at first, then they ignore him, pacing off the sand like land surveyors. Mango goes on. “This is Mother Nature’s palace, and you’re not going to fuck it up! You tried bombing us, that didn’t work, so now what? How many hotels? How big? Motherfuckers!”

The two men ignore the maniac. When they speak to each other, their language serrates the scented, Hawaiian air. They hike up the sand hill to the dirt road and pull away in a big, dark car. I hope the kiawe brush––trees brought by missionaries to force the Hawaiians to wear shoes––cuts their tires, and I hope lava rock scrapes the paint from their car.

Mango is still raving and Lono is silent. Lono packs up his bag and his bongos. “It’s all gonna change, man,” he mumbles. And that’s all he says.

I don’t want to be around Mango because he’ll expect me to say something. All I feel is empty frustration. “I’m going to work,” I lie and walk up the sand hill to my van. I head for Lahaina to spend my day off.

I got paid Friday so I go have breakfast at the Pioneer Inn at the harbor. Their scrambled eggs and bacon taste better than anywhere else in the world. Everyone there feels the same way—you know, like a group high. Most of ’em have rown in from sailboats, hungrier than hell. They scarf fluffy yellow eggs while a couple of tourists order French toast stuffed with guava jelly, the smell of their maple-coconut syrup mixes with the smell of eggs. The salt from the ocean and that old boat smell that’s so great is enough to put you to sleep forever.

With my belly full, I stroll down the seawall on Front Street playing a game with myself that I can pick out the older shops from the newer, touristy ones. Well, that’s not so hard. I’m not a shopper but I can tell the coral and whale scrimshaw shops are a hit with the tourists. Come to think of it, all the shops are touristy, so I guess the history from the whaling days is pretty much gone. Then I run into Marina, she’s the pasta lady at Longhi’s. It’s her day off too, and she’s delivering some of her paintings to galleries for consignment. Marina lives on her boat with her youngest son, now that all five of her girls are on their own. With all those kids, I picture Marina as a fifties housewife, not a bum on a boat who paints, makes pasta with a hand crank machine and usually has the best pot.

We smoke some of her pot on the seawall then she rows us out to her boat. We listen to Jesse Collin Young on her cassette player and she makes us basil pesto cannelloni with her pasta roller. We dangle our feet off the boat and just talk about stuff. She has made her paradise here with her free rent and her laid back life. But something about it seems fragile, so we whisper a lot.

But it’s still a good day.

Sitting back on Makena Beach after sunset, I’m picking on my guitar, trying to capture Hawaiian magic, when I see coffee-skinned Lono walk, duck-footed, down the sand hill carrying his bongos.

“Howzit, John?” Lono says to me. “Ey, I wrote one song taday. Help me with a tune?”

“Yeah, sure.”

He’s pensive and silent at his bongos. I try to open him up a bit. “So what’s up?”

“Ho-dels.”

“Hotels?”

“Yeah, big, ugly, land-suckin’ ho-dels.”

“Yeah,” I say.

Normally, I would ask for lyrics to get a feel for a song. But I know the beat right off, so I start picking. I pick dissonant, long Hawaiian slack-key notes, woven with blues. I experiment with the rhythm while he pats his bongos. I pick and bend my strings to painful notes, waiting for him to sing. And then he does:

I was born from the womb of this land
This is my mother I love
You scrape her, hurt her, whore her for your profit.
My grandchildren won’t know her
She’ll be just a legend.
These nights at water’s edge will be history.
You’ll build your hotels and strangers will come,
Speaking trite of magic and beauty.
But they’ll never know.
This is my mother, my love.

Then he sings a verse in Hawaiian and tears crawl down our cheeks. He stops singing and we just jam a bit. And Mother Hawaii shines on us with silver moon, kisses us with her salty breeze, and sings to us with her crashing waves.

The orange sun has disappeared when we feel sand peppering our faces. Lance is standing over us, smirking. “So, where’s Mango?”

“Haven’t seen him since this morning,” I say. “I think he’s got a girl.”

Lono rolls his eyes, but remains polite. “Ey Lance, what’s hap’nin brah?”

“Nutin much.” His back to the water, Lance crosses his ankles then flops down onto the sand. “Wanna smoke?”

I’m a sucker for Hawaiian stuff, even if it means hanging out with Lance for a while. “Watcha got?” I say.

“Kona.”

“Good stuff. Wanna beer?” I pull a sweating can of Bud from a paper bag.

He takes it and pops the top and drains half the can. He then sinks the can into the sand and lights up a joint. He tokes hard, holds it in, passes it to me. Then he speaks, one word at a time, trying to hold the smoke in. “Man – am – I – glad – to – get – outa – the – house.” Each word mingling with a swirl of smoke.

I’m holding my smoke now, so Lono responds. “Anuda fight?”

“Yeah, I swear my dad should whack her one when she gets like that—he’s such a wimp.” He yanks his beer from the sand and slurps, clumps of sand fall from the bottom of the can down his shirt.

I hand the joint to Lono. I want to change the subject, but the pot has numbed my mind. I wish Mango were here.

Lono finishes his toke and hands the joint back to Lance. “Why doncha move out, man?”

“Oh, and where do I move? With what money eh?”

“Jes makin’ a suggestion, man, if ya no like where you’re at, den ––”

“Well, there just ain’t nowhere to go on this God forsaken island. Except down to the beach. I saw some girls partying at Kam Park. Anyone wanna come?” He finishes his beer and wings the can over his head and into the waves.

Lono freezes.

The pot and booze take over my body and suddenly I’m on fire. “Are you fuckin’ nuts?” I bolt up and run to the waves. I crash into the water and swipe up the can before it washes out to sea. On my way back, I see Lance laughing.

“What the hell’s the matter with you?” I say. I shake the water out of the can and toss it into the paper bag. “Don’t you care about anything or anyone? Don’t you see how beautiful this place is? No wonder the locals don’t like us haoles, you give us a bad name!”

“I am a local, man.”

Lono’s eyes flash yellow, like a cat’s. “No you not, white boy.” He stands and his shoulders are rigid.

Lance leaps from the sand. “You wanna fight, brown butt?” He leers and balls his fists.

My heart pounds with fear but I speak. “Lance! You go see your girls. Lono, c’mon, let’s take a swim or sumpthin’.”

Lono backs off, nods, relaxes his shoulders. Lance saunters off, mumbling to himself. Lono runs his hand though his sun bleached, matty hair. “I no smoke with ’im no more.”

“Yeah, good idea,” I say. “He’s bad news, man.”

“I gotta get ’ome.” He picks up his bongos. “See ya, brah.”

“Yeah, brah, see ya.”

A drizzle starts blowing down from the lava slopes of Haleakala. I decide to sleep in my van.

The sun has heated the van like an oven, so I wake early. After I strip and plunge into the cool Pacific, I towel dry, pull on my shorts, and sit cross-legged, facing the southern point of the island where an ancient, red lava flow has poured into the ocean and hardened into a craggy pile. That’s when I see Mango storm down the sand hill with a rolled up Maui News in his hand. He throws it on the sand in front of me and the headline leaps from the page:

MAKENA BEACH PROPERTY SOLD TO JAPANESE DEVELOPERS
LUXURY HOTEL TO BE BUILT

There are puffy white clouds over the islands of Molokai and Lanai, this view from Makena Beach, that and who-knows-when, rich tourists will see through expensive framed windows as high as the sky. Below, their glassy view of the islands and the surf will be carpets of green grass, shimmering swimming pools, private beach accesses, and maybe even a golf course rolling up the slopes of Mount Haleakala.

For a moment, I consider the comfort of a plain hot shower in my parents’ house in Oakland, “white bread” as it is. My morning salt rinse will never be the same again. The gritty sensation I have grown to love will slowly become foreign to me.

I put on a t-shirt, get inside my van and slam the door, eager to get away from this feeling that starts climbing up in me. I turn the key, rev up and take off on the sand path through the kiawe brush up to the dirt road. The feeling is still with me though. It’s like a prowler who’s been lurking around a while, a fleeting shadow here and there when I think my eyes are playing tricks. But he’s here now, standing right in front of me and my heart pounds so hard I can hardly breathe.

 

Six months later, Mango, Lono and I are setting up for our musical protest at Makena Beach. We are in the kiawe trees behind the beach, ready for the groundbreaking of the Maui Prince Hotel. Oh, I know it’s stupid and pointless, but I decide to follow Mango into his insanity one last time before my trip back to Oakland next week. Why not?

Mango windmills his arms, like a spastic conductor. “Just—when it gets all quiet, just sing the song!” he directs.

Lono and I are fumbling with the portable amp we borrowed, plugged into an adaptor in the van. Trying to test it out, without making any noise, while Japs with hardhats mill around the beach. The Mayor of Maui is here, whatever his name is, along with The Maui News. They are all carrying golden shovels, ready to pierce the land. Make her bleed. Forever.

Muddy looking clouds roll down from Haleakala, a sign, I think, an omen. Someone is talking through the microphone, making a lofty speech, I can’t hear the words—thankfully, or I might grab Lono’s mic and scream through it.

Finally, it has quieted down on the beach as we set up in the dirty sand next to the van. Mango and I are plugged in; two mics in front of Lono and me and his bongos.

“Now!” Mango yells. We skip the intro and go right into song, just like we’d rehearsed:

I was born from the womb of this land
This is my mother I love
You scrape her, hurt her, whore her for your profit.
My grandchildren won’t know her
She’ll be just a legend.
These nights at water’s edge will be history.
You’ll build your hotels and strangers will come,
Speaking trite of magic and beauty.
But they’ll never knowthey’ll never know… they’ll never know…

We repeat the verse over and over, loud across the beach, competing with the pounding waves. Lono angrily bangs his bongos as he sings, Mango pounds out rhythm on his guitar and I pick my bluesy notes and sing loud above it all. The bewildered Japs climb up from the beach, picking through dried kiawe thorns in the dirty sand, squinting at us now that the sun has come out from behind a cloud. But we keep singing. We sing through our tears. The Japs shake their heads and shrug. The Maui News photographer snaps a few pictures of us protesting hippies before the Mayor puts his arm in front of the camera and runs a finger across his neck in a ‘cut!’ motion.

 

Marisa Mangani, 2016 Author

Marisa Mangani, 2016 Author

Marisa Mangani, born and raised in Hawaii, lives in Sarasota, Florida where she designs commercial kitchens and bars. She has a degree in Restaurant Management and as Executive Chef won a silver medal at the Florida Restaurant Show’s 1993 Mystery Box competition. Her culinary adventures took her to New Orleans, Vancouver and Australia and now she writes and open mics about food and life. Her essays have been published in Hippocampus, Skirt! Expound Magazine and South 85. Blog: misenplacememoir.wordpress.com, Twitter: @MarisaMingo77 and thrillist.com.

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