It’s a Saturday and I’m walking to Ala Moana Farmers’ Market, which operates from 7am–12pm next to Sears’ car park.
As I head down the Ala Wai Canal ramp, I see a homeless man sitting on a lawn chair just before the entrance to the beach park. Every time people pass by, toothless, he gibbers: ‘Food money food money food money …,’ then peters out as they walk away.
Regardless of the recognition that ‘There but for the grace of God go I,’ or, indeed, any one of us, I brace myself as I near him. He looks at me then puckers up, making smacking kissing noises alternated with gibbered, ‘I wub you, Mwaah, I wub you, Mwaah, I wub you …’
I don’t quite know whether to be amused or disgusted, thinking, Whatever happened to ‘food money food money’?
Later that afternoon, I’m off to the beach park for an ocean swim. As I near the private Waikiki Yacht Club, in a little nook I espy the same homeless man. This appears to be his spot. He has his bedding laid out, an umbrella propped at a rakish angle lending him shade – and there he is! – lolling against the wall in a bright red thong and nothing else, legs crossed casually at the ankles. His hair is slicked back, his skin gleams with a generous layer of oil and he is puffing on, with obvious enjoyment, a thick cigar.
He barely glances my way when I walk past.
SOME WEEKS LATER
I’m returning from a long walk to Queen’s Surf Beach, named after Queen Liliuokalani because her beach house and its pier used to stand here.
I go swimming in order to compare the quality of the beach to my end of Waikiki, in case I’m missing out on something, which, I’m happy to note, I’m not. My end is better, I reckon, it’s also a lot quieter and less crowded, plus there’s Magic Island. Yay!
I’m wearing green shorts and a bright pink striped shirt, unbuttoned, over my yellow bikini top. In my day pack I have only a towel and a white sarong. As I approach the Outrigger Reef, across the road from Trump Tower, I see a relatively young homeless guy. He is tall, tanned and blond, and at one stage was probably quite goodlooking, but alcoholism ravages one, and he has been no exception. Lounging against the hotel’s entryway, he is calling out unabashedly to pedestrians: ‘Money for beer! Money for beer! Money for beer!’
I stroll past him, hidden behind my green and gold aviators. There is a sudden silence, then he lowers his head a little, looks at me from under his pale brows and solemnly declares: ‘Whoa, sista, you are hot!’
It’s more the tone than anything else that has me bust out laughing.
He looks pleased, like he’s accomplished something. ‘Money for beer?’ he says.
‘I have no money,’ I answer truthfully, looking back briefly, while still walking away.
‘I have money,’ he yells, ‘you want some?’ Which is sweet in a way.
When I get home, I laugh each time I remember his grave tone, and how he separated and enunciated every word.
A memory floats in as I’m writing this. It was during the Australian university holidays and I was visiting my parents in their Suva home.
In town one day, I walked past a man who was up on a ladder in front of a store. I have to point out that Suva streets, at least in those days, were full of male hecklers and wolf-whistlers and all sorts of ‘larrikins,’ as my mom used to say, who, being such a terrific beauty, was invariably the subject of all this unwanted attention.
Anyway, as I walked past this particular chap, he released a long low whistle and said, slowly: Man, my life will never be the same!
As I recall, I laughed then also.