The salty ocean breeze felt great on freshly buzzed head. I must admit the mini van was taking the winding roads with a certain elegance. Like in one of those car commercials that shows flashes of glossy gun metal gray sweeping around corners much like these, only to pan out and reveal a soccer mom taking her kids to school. Like one of those commercials . . . except, both slider doors were open, we were taking pulls on a bottle of some horrid no-name moonshine, and Gil Scott-Heron was blasting over the radio; a throwback to Denny’s college days.
We were almost to the airport when it came. The startling, but expected, flash of blue and red—the rise of increasing paranoia when “looking in a mirror and seeing a police car”; Neil Young had it right. We weren’t ‘long-hairs’ though. We had no pre-established ‘excuse’ for the man to pull us over.
“Turn your blinker on,” I told him.
“I know. I’m pulling over. Hide the booze, would ya?”
“No, just keep going, but keep your blinker on. I read it in a book.”
Who the hell was I kidding though? This was no half-baked gonzo fantasy world. We had crimes to face up to. Serious crimes.
The fresh rubber of the new tires rolled slowly onto the shoulder of the backcountry Hawaiian road, picking up soft gravel in its dark crevices. With the van completely stopped, there was no more breeze, and I began to sweat. The hair on my neck and arms quickly rose in defiance of my perspiration. Resting my trembling hands on both knees and squinting as the sun reflected off infinite blue horizon, I began to recall the spotty events of yesterday . . .
***We Had to Come Here***
The plane touched down just after eight in the morning, an unexpected hour when I consider the night before, but there was only one plane that went out to this place, and it landed at eight in the morning, and the pilot would be damned if he didn’t leave what he called “this desolate shit hole” as soon as he could.
The thirty-minute plane ride from Oahu seemed an eternity on an empty stomach and full bladder. The first thing I did upon landing was hit up the nearest bathroom. I was rewarded with a solid minute of processed neon green coffee and booze that smelled of ammonia.
Standing tall and proud in the grungy airport bathroom, I kept asking myself why I was here? We had to come here, Denny and I. Well just Denny, I suppose; but I decided to tag along. I kept telling myself it was an escape from a hotel room littered with empty bottles of Patrón and oversized cans of Model Especial.
***My Quickly Altered Attitude***
Denny had a PhD in plant pathology—still does actually—and was scheduled that day to examine an outbreak of a rust fungus that had affected the islands corn population. The field inspection lasted forty minutes tops before we were back in the van, courtesy of the corn seed industry of course. It was time to enjoy the island for what it was worth. Our own mini paradise sheltered from the bundles of tourists on Oahu.
Here, on Moloka’i we had space to breathe. The prairie grass, whipping too and fro in a dance with the wind, offered a release I so seldom get acquainted with. No tourists set foot on this island, only jean-jacket-Gypsys, like Denny and myself
Upon leaving the field, we immediately hit up a small convenience store to pick up some necessities. I held the idea of a bottle of 1800 Añejo and a six pack of Dos Equis Amber Ale dear to my heart and found myself in a state of utter bewilderment when I gazed upon the store’s liquor collection (rather lack there of).
“What the hell do we do,” I asked?
“Suppose we humble ourselves.”
Humbling ourselves meant buying some off shoot tequila, Montezuma I think it was called. We avoided the beer because there was honestly nothing worth drinking.
“Jesus Christ,” I said upon leaving the store. “I mean honestly people, what the hell is wrong with this world. Can’t even buy a decent bottle of booze at a local store anymore.”
Just then I noticed a small smirk come across my friend’s face.
“Something funny,” I asked? I was in no mood for jokes.
“How about a little taste of civilization my boy,” he asked, reaching his hand in his shirt pocket and pulling out two Arturo Fuentes.
The Cubans, of course, how did I forget? I slid on my Ray Bans, lit up my smoke, and we set out to taste the island.
***An Anthropological Monstrosity***
“You see,” Said Denny, “native women would pray to the rock for fertility.” Standing directly in front of Molokai’s infamous Phallic Rock, it was clear why. Yes ladies and gentlemen, a rock shaped like a penis, and you can see it if you hike through an uphill brush laden path. Odd that two men would fight gravity to reach such a strange destination, but that’s Moloka’i for you.
It was at the top of the hill we met two giggling hippie folk. Not being one to pass up a conversation with these yahoos we walked their way.
“Howdy,” I said.
“Hey man,” was the long, drawn out, and predictable reply.
The silence of the trees subsumed the moment, and that ended our intelligent conversation.
“Fucking potheads,” I said, taking a swig of our putrid liquid, feeling quite content with the warmness working its way down my esophagus.
***How the Hell They Get by this Place?***
“One . . . Two . . . Three. Say Cheese”
“Ch, Ch . . . hold on a sec. Cheess… Bahh aha”
Oh it was useless. I was too far gone and too far amused by the word cheese. Montezuma was taking his revenge. So much so that I could care less that I was practically wobbling over the cliff side that Denny was trying to take my picture by.
We’d somehow driven our way over to the island’s western shore and stumbled upon, in my opinion, the most magnificent beach Hawaii has to offer. But that may have been because we were the only two people on it.
Hands and feet on slippery jagged rocks, we made our way down to the beach. Absorbing the energy and excitement from the reflection of the Pacific rays off the sand, I curled my toes in anticipation for an unexplainable rush of energy. As I forced the hot rocks through the empty spaces between my toes, I exploded, throwing my hundred dollar shades to the wrath of the micro shards of sand just below. The easterly breeze carried my shirt off through the air, and I made for the freedom of the five-foot waves directly ahead.
I took on the first wave that dared to roll in front of this force of nature, only to be sucked in and spit back out by the very substance I sought to commune with. Washed up on the beach like a sun-tanned manatee, my body purged itself of the wretched substance that made me who I am.
“What was that all about,” asked Denny?
I didn’t respond. I wasn’t quite sure myself—a moment of rare and unexpected insight? An unexplainable drunken impulse?
We headed back through some beach grass onto a sidewalk leading back to the parking lot where our van awaited. Just then I noticed the lines of abandoned condos. Denny told me some developmental company failed at building a resort here.
“How the hell they get by this place,” I asked?
Denny and I had stumbled all over the island by now. We visited the old leper colony and saw Hawaii’s largest waterfall. Hell, we even ran into some locals who were shoveling sand off a small beach to use as kitty litter. They offered us a traditional native meal of rice and spam. We offered them our juice, but they declined. It seems the company of two drunken buffoons was good enough for the barter.
The sun was quickly setting; a sign that we should have been getting back to the airport. But we didn’t. The native couple had long gone back home, but Denny and I just sat there on the beach in silence, letting the booze wear off.
Eight o’clock was gone when we finally decided to speak.
“Eight-ten. Guess we missed our flight,” said Denny.
“Guess so,” I responded, not really caring all that much.
“Hey, I got an idea. That convenience store is just down the road. How’s-about we go and pick up a bottle?”
My only response was to get up and follow my friend down the road.
***I Was Not a Man of Morals***
Denny came out of the store carrying a smile and a bottle of Molokai’s own hooch. On our walk back to “Kitty-Litter Beach,” a car slowly pulled up behind us and cut its engine, but leaving the glair of its low beams in our eyes. Just then we heard the thunder of heavy boots against pavement. It was the unmistakable sound of authority.
“You gentlemen all right?”
I’d been arrested twice in my life, and both times the bastards had the audacity to use the term “gentlemen,” as if it somehow made up for the fact that all they wanted to do was slap some cuffs on me and rough me around. I wasn’t going to take any chances.
“Why don’t you guys come with me, and we’ll take a trip to . . .”
Ramming my fist as hard as I could into his gut, I refused to allow him to finish that sentence. I was glad to find out the cops didn’t wear bulletproof vests here. That could have turned out bad.
Denny and I scurried to the van, and looking in the wake of the dust our tires created, I found it strange that the cop didn’t get in his car to pursue us or even radio for back up. He just sat there. Denny drove for about fifteen minutes before pulling the van over next to an abandoned Church.
“Holy shit. I just hit a cop. What the hell are we going to do?”
My friend got out of the van and began pacing and taking swigs on the bottle. I followed suit and frantically asked if he had a plan.
“Yeah, I think so,” he said, waving the home brew under my nose. “Here have some. It’ll calm your nerves.”
Catching a whiff, I stepped slightly back and fell to my knees. When the crackle of snapping twigs subsided, I could hear the waves crashing against the shore off in the distance. My mind returned to the beach we’d visited earlier today, and I was soon reenacting the same scene all over again. For a split second, I thought about what I’d done back there with the cop. But I quickly dismissed it as philosophical humdrum; something to be pursued by those goofy hippie folk we ran into earlier. When my nausea settled, I collected myself, manned-up and took a fair hit off the bottle. I was not a man of morals.
“You okay,” my friend asked, helping me up off the ground.
“Fine. Now, what’s the story?”
“It’s a long shot, but it’s all I got. We can’t get out of here until eight at night tomorrow. So that’s when they’ll expect us to be at the airport. Basically, what we have to do is not get detected until tomorrow. But instead of heading to the airport at night, we go in the morning right before the incoming plane lands. We still got some cash right?”
“Yeah, I got one-fifty on me still”
“Good. That gives us about two-fifty total. When the plane touches down, we bribe the fuck outa’ pilot to take us back right away . . . how’s that sound?”
“Great,” I replied sarcastically.
We hid out in the abandoned church. All the dust irritated my nose, and I spent the entire night scared shitless, holding in sneeze after sneeze, afraid to make any noise.
***We Rose with the Sun: Hung-over, Starved, and Anxious***
“Well, we’re not rotting in a cell yet. We must be doing something right,” were my waking words.
“We’ll head out in about ten minutes. I don’t want to take any chances by getting to the airport too early and having to wait around.”
I spent those minutes contemplating about eating some purple berries I had found when I was taking my morning piss, but decided I could starve for at least another hour.
“You ready for this,” Denny asked?
“Let’s just get it done with.”
We loaded into the van like soldiers going on a suicide mission: quiet, stern, and focused. Denny pulled onto the road and flipped the radio dial. Through the static we were picking up Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Bottle,” and we both couldn’t help but crack a smile.
“End of the line, eh? I’ll be honest, I’m surprised we made it through the night,” I said.
“Just hide the booze, okay?”
“Yeah, sure,” I said, stashing the bottle under my seat.
The sound of the squad car’s door shutting behind the officer sounded a little too much like a judge’s gavel dealing out our punishment. I was glad Denny was driving because I was liable to ram the door into his gut and race to the airport.
“You gentlemen care to explain yourselves?” Okay, now I know I would have kicked the door open. We just sat there not knowing what to say.
“You recognize this man?”
“Yeah, he’s the cop I hit last night,” deciding it was best to cooperate. ‘Yeah, I knew it was wrong, and I did it anyway’ was the approach I was going for.
“Cop? You did hit him last night, but he’s not a cop. He’s the island’s priest. He was going to offer you a ride to the local Motel. That is, until you guys flipped out. Now, I’m going to ask you again, care to explain yourselves?”
Before I could open my mouth to spout out some sort of excuse, Denny, in all his brilliance, patiently explained our actions to the officer.
“You see, we missed our flight off the island last night, and we were tired from examining this rust fungus that’s infecting your corn population, so we picked up a bottle of that stuff you guys brew right here on the island. We’re sorry. We were tired, drunk and just wanted to be left alone. I don’t know what else we can say.”
After that, Denny and I shared a glance, and my stomach turned over several times amongst the silence the followed. Just as I thought we were doomed the Priest spoke.
“You’re examining the fungus?”
Taken aback by such an odd question, my colleague barely found the words to speak.
“Ye- . . .ye- yes Father.”
“My brother’s a farmer here on the island. He’s been hit pretty hard with it. You find a solution for it yet?”
“That’s what I’m working on. I need to get some test samples back to the lab in Oahu though.”
“I see. Well Jim,” he said staring at the police officer, “I see no reason to take these boys in. After all, it is my profession to forgive.”
After the Father had walked back to the squad car, we got a sobering stare from ‘Officer Jim’.
“You heard the Father, get the hell outa’ here,” He said, starting to walk away, only to quickly turn back around, “But if I ever get a wiff of your stench around here again, rest assured I will arrest you. We don’t like your kind around here.”
***The Flight Back***
I stared out the window the whole flight back, partially wondering how we got out of that situation, but also looking at the white caps down below and recalling the wave that spat me back on the beach.
We were colonizers, Denny and I. That’s what the officer meant by “our kind”—thought we could bend the island to suite our agenda—no better than the hordes of college students who invade Cancun once a year for an MTV spring break, taking body shots off the navel of a country who’s majority population could never afford such juvenile decadence. Maybe it was for the best that the resort on the beach was left to fester. Maybe it was for the best that we never go back. I don’t know, thoughts like that are still so foreign to me.
A smooth landing—the plane taxied to our terminal, carrying with it the mild hum of the flanking prop engines. We walked down the ladder, surprised at our ‘welcoming’ party.
“Doctor Dennis Nelson and Mitchell Penn?”
“Yes,” we responded in unison.
“We’re with the DEA . . . You’re under arrest.”
“What! What the hell for,” I demanded. All I could think of was the cop and the priest somehow two-timed us.
“We got a call from the Hilton just an hour ago. It would appear you guys left some cocaine out for the cleaning ladies to find this morning.”
The officers gently cuffed us and escorted us to their navy colored government sport sedan. Surprisingly, we shared some laughs with them on the way to the station, and I jokingly explained how Agent Jackson had broken my ‘gentleman theory’. They got a kick out of that and admitted they never even realized how often they used the term gentlemen in their line of work.
***Ten Years After***
I’d be damned if I got more out of that arrest than an easily avoidable jail sentence—the kind of slap on the wrist that enough money will buy you.
I said before that I was not a man of morals. Maybe I was being a little too harsh on my character. I am a man of few morals.
I’m sitting on a beach here in South Africa, much like the beautiful sand my friend and I had sifted through, getting our kicks on Moloka’i. Not a night goes by without me getting into an argument at the bar with some relief agency volunteer on leave. Apparently I “lack ambition” and am “an apathetic son of a bitch,” or sometimes I’m “just a downright rotten human being.” Their responses vary, but always carry that air of superiority in them.
“True”, I often respond to the volunteers, “but I also leave our impoverished bartender a much better tip than you do.”
Like I said, a man of few morals.