When we first came to Kauai, in 1969, sugar was king. Kauai was a feudal state. A benign feudal state. Plantation managers were Kings, the Department Heads Knights of the Round. I recall Bill’s words as we set forth across the wide water, “…and I’m going to have to keep you on a Plantation.” He knew whereof he spoke. I shrugged.
On Oahu he worked for Castle and Cooke in Ewa, but we lived in Kaneohe, a world away. He knew the plantation social structure, I knew nothing. I had to learn fist hand and what I learned was: it was the pettiest, stinkiest, most gossip prone, conformity freaked out mess I’d ever had the misfortune to drop in on. “A woman’s home is who she is,” one of the wives sniffed at me. To which I replied, “To me a house is a place to drop saddles and sail bags.”
Suburban America wasn’t my style, but I could escape it. I played the big city game and told the little housewives to stay home and bake cookies. I didn’t need them and they certainly didn’t need me. I acted. I wrote. Got in lots of trouble for things I wrote but it didn’t bother me. Fact is, for the most part, I wasn’t even aware of the uproar I created. Once a talk radio show-Watamuls yellow radio journalism at work and play-tore me to shreds for a week before I even became aware of it. I didn’t listen to the radio. I didn’t do the talk radio thing-still don’t-and first heard about it at the end of that week when my boss at the Honolulu Advertiser quizzed me. “What in the hell did you say?”
The name of the infamous article was All the Pretty Parasites and put Beacon Magazine of Honolulu on the map for a week. I was big on Beacon, but lower than a ground termite in Suburbia USA. I still have a copy, maybe one day I’ll publish it again.
On Kauai I got off to a really bad start when the Queen called to tell me what I should wear to a party. My thinking? Lady, you may be Queen of the May, but you’re not going to tell me what I can or cannot wear. Bad start. Good finish. And- trust me here- the finish was a blue ribbon- gold star- halo-event. At the end, just before Bill’s diagnosis, I could have gone to one of their silly parties naked and there’d have been nary a peep. How this came about? I’ll save it for another episode.
Still there’s more to eccentricity than defiance. Like everything else in this world there’s an upside and a downside. Upside, I was free. Downside, Bill was flack catcher. Whatever went wrong anywhere on the island was my doing. Poor Bill. He had to face them every day. I saw them rarely.
Once I gave a party and nobody came. To Bill I said, as I wrapped and stored a delicious ton of edibles, “I’ll never have to do that again.”
He shrugged, but what he said to them I do not know.