We’re counting down to Hawaii.
An annual family, Christmas-week trip we take to the only place in America that, in winter, is nicer than California. Unless you like snow, in which case, I don’t know why you even bother with me. We’re not the same.
Last Christmas, it was the Big Island with its still active volcanoes. The Christmas before, it was Maui, with its memorable snorkeling lagoon (where I was nearly swept out to sea, but was rescued by my daughter, Anna.) This year, it’s the old reliable, Oahu, returning to a hotel we’ve been patronizing since Anna, now twenty-seven, was six months old.
“Movie theater close” and zephyrous breezes. That’s the hotel’s calling card. Easy. Relaxed. Not a zoo, being relatively small. Our weeklong routine is invariable. Eat breakfast, sit by the ocean and read, break for lunch, go back to the beach and read some more. Sun goes down, you go upstairs for a nap, you have dinner, you see a movie, you go to bed.
No arts galleries. No museums. No historical attractions. (There’s Pearl Harbor, but we saw that already.) No landmark cathedrals. It’s not that kind of holiday. I like that kind too – every ten years – but I like this better.
I have some reservations about this hotel, all chronicled in earlier posts. Check out “Too Big For My Bathing Suit”, a two-parter about the hotel’s trivial-sounding but intensely serious beach-chair wars, involving “arrive early” timing strategies and “under-the-table” payoffs.
Then, there was the time when, while quietly breakfasting, I was informed that I’d been erroneously seated at “the Katzenberg table”, whereupon I was required to pick up my plate of macadamia nut pancakes and move.
There was also the guy we call “Mean Man”, who tried to throw me off my own rented rubber raft, because he thought it was his, and when it was proven to him it wasn’t, the guy yelled at me anyway.
I now add to this litany of discomforts a man I ran into on the beach a couple of visits ago, and who I have shivers about running into again.
An imposing-looking man, maybe works out. He’s also from Canada. Montreal, but it’s better than nothing. He spotted me wearing a (Toronto hockey team) Maple Leaf baseball cap. We hashed over the Canadian pastime. It was enjoyable. The guy knew his stuff.
Turns out that, like me, he now lives in L.A. He has season’s tickets to the (L.A. hockey team) Kings. Front row. Next to the “Penalty Box.” He asks me if I’d like to go to a game with him sometime. I say sure.
A month or two later, I’m driving to his house, the plan being, I’ll leave my car there, he’ll drive to the game, I’ll drive home after. That last part is problematic, since it means driving in the dark. But come on! It’s front row seats. So I hit a pedestrian. Everything has its price.
Before we leave, the guy shows me his collection of hockey memorabilia. Sticks, pictures and pucks, signed by the greatest of the all-time hockey greats, all framed and mounted and impressively displayed. You get two messages here: The guy is a legitimate hockey fan. And. This guy has money.
We drive to the (home of the Kings) Staples Center. I inquire about his work. His responses are casually opaque. I learn almost nothing. It’s a “Costanza” answer. He’s in “import-export.” I think back to his priceless memorabilia collection, then think, “import-export” of what? I never find out.
It starts when we get there. “Here’s what I like to do,” he says, making it sound more like “Game Plan” than a report on what he likes to do.
“No hot dogs. We’ll have roast beef sandwiches. And I’ll show you which concession stand is to get them at.”
I happen to like hot dogs. But it doesn’t seem to matter. The man has completely taken charge. Right down to dessert.
“Ice cream sandwiches after the first period.”
“Can we have peanuts?”
Well, the guy invited me. I guess I have to play by his rules. I’ll miss the peanuts, but what are you going to do?
The entire evening feels rigorously controlled. I’m a grown up person. I’m used to making me own decisions, and having my own opinions. Not tonight. This guy was the pilot. And I was strapped into the plane.
The last straw? The guy runs into some cronies after the second period. They chat and chuckle. I’m standing on the periphery. Suddenly, the guy turns to me and says,
“Do you have a computer that your wife doesn’t have access to?”
The man has porn site suggestions.
“That’s not me,” I reply.
And we leave it at that.
After the game, the guy returns us to his house, I beg off an invitation back inside, and nod enthusiastically when he says, “Call me if you want to go to another game.” I get into my car, and I carefully head for home. Getting lost along the way.
All right. So it didn’t work out. Life goes on. And it did. With no second date. I never called him.
The following Christmas, I’m back on the beach.
And there he is.
My vacation routine is to read for an hour or two, then get up and stretch my legs with a stroll along the sand. That’s when I notice him. Noticing me.
What can I do? I walk over to his awning-shaded cabana, him and his wife. I have to be careful here, so I don’t sound to…well, you’ll see.
The man’s wife a beauty. And at the current moment, when I’m standing in front of them, she is resting on her stomach, slathered in suntan lotion, her bikini top removed, and the remainder of her attired in a shoelace-sized thong. I am only human. It’s distracting.
It is in this context that I am confronted by the man’s direct but deliberately childlike-sounding question:
“Don’t you like me anymore?”
I am quintessentially on the spot. I phumpher some cockamamie excuse, and finish with the assurance that I will call him during the upcoming hockey season.
You know me by now. I’m a coward. I am not going back there. I never call.
For the next two Christmas trips, I emphatically lobby for other islands. Our vacations are fine. But the Oahu place is my family’s hands-down favorite. So this year, I reluctantly surrender.
What if he’s there again? What am I going to say to him?
“I had heart surgery last year. I was in the hospital.”
“For how long?”
“Four days. But it was an extended recovery.”
He’s a determined fellow. I don’t think that’s going to do it.