Friday, July 14, 2006

Where in the World is Octopus Grigori: Hawaii


Somehow, it ended up that I had to go into the sixth grade principal's office and explain to him that we were going on a family vacation and that I would miss six days of school. "Where are you going?" he asked. "Hawaii," I said. "That should be very nice," he said, but not in the kindest way.

The flight went on forever. Water, water, water, and then green mountains, palms under thin clouds, beaches, massive hotels, bright blue swimming pools. Maui. The plane pulled up from the runway at the last second before landing. We shot back into the sky. The pilot came on, midwestern chuckle and casual explanation: we'd need to try that again.

The airport was so small. They checked our suitcases and slapped "Hawaii" stickers on them. The tan little Samsonite my brother and I were sharing was much improved with that sticker. It stayed on that suitcase for the next eighteen years. We left the suitcase on the curb in Brooklyn the night before we started out for California.

There was a shuttle waiting for us at the airport. The hotel smelled like rain and fog and large flowers that were always damp. The atrium was huge. We rushed upstairs, changed, and ran out onto the beach. We were in Hawaii. We ran out into the surf, the sand quickly turning to sharp coral, tearing into our feet.

Glaxo was paying for the trip. The same company that made my light blue Ventolin inhalers. They had chocolate chip muffins at breakfast in the tree-filled atrium. I had never heard of such a thing. The pool had three sections, three waterfalls.

We had mango ice cream at a store in town, in waffle cones. We had never had waffle cones before -- they smelled so good. My parents and their friends stopped their rental car in front of someone's yard -- there was a huge mango tree. My parents and their friends went up to the door of the house and asked if they could pick some of the mangoes. They looked so beautiful on the tree, they'd be willing to pay. The people were happy to let my parents and their friends pick the mangoes.

We were "tsunami warriors" at dusk, trying to stand up to the huge waves just before sunset. People played tennis on the beachside courts behind us. I was facing my brother, showing him my Karate Kid crane kick and he tried to warn me, but I didn't hear him in time. A huge wave picked me up, lifted me six or seven feet, and slammed me into the solid, flat, wet part of the beach. My brother came up to me and I tried to talk to him, but I could only make groaning, gagging sounds. My tongue had gone totally numb, and I couldn't really control my vocal cords. After a few moments, I was able to breathe. I was able to form a word or two, but gagged and groaned a bit after that as well.

We had CNN in our room. We watched an entire news cycle, the news repeating after an hour or so. We watched "The Right Stuff" on HBO. We caught the scene where the astronaut not chosen for the mission takes a test plane straight up, out of the atmosphere. He catches a brief, wispy glimpse of the stars before his plane fails and he hurtles back down to earth.

Our hotel had a metal sculpture map of the Hawaiian islands on one of its walls. We picked the other islands we would go to, next time. There was a Beni Hana type restaurant in the hotel.

We had lunch on a volcano. I got a key ring with a Hawaiian god-type guy on it. There was a luau buffet at the hotel. Everything smelled like the outdoor torches and the candles they burn under buffet trays to keep them warm. For the only time in my life, my nose peeled. We made friends at the pool and never saw them again.

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