Well today didn’t go as planned, which worked out fine with us. The plan was to catch the Royal Hawaiian Band performance at Iolani Palace where they perform regularly at noon on Fridays. Today the concert was canceled because of rain. It wasn’t raining hard—really just a mist—but even a mist can mess up sensitive instruments. We’ll catch them another time.
Since we were downtown at noon, we decided on lunch at a little place we discovered last year on Fort Street Mall. Fort Street Mall runs through the middle of the financial district of Honolulu. This place is called The Fort Street Cafe. It’s located at the cathedral end of the mall, directly across from Hawaii Pacific University. It is a Vietnamese cafe with a variety of local and Asian dishes. It looks like a hole-in-the-wall. They have four tables inside and three outside. You can get the usual Vietnamese—ban mi, pho, spring rolls—but also many more. I’m always surprised that a small place, with what must be a tiny kitchen, can have so many offerings. We split a combo plate of Thai penang curry and garlic fried chicken. It was served on a plate of rice. I cannot imagine an individual consuming all that food. We were full on half of it. I use penang curry as a standard for judging Thai food. This was great. The chicken, also, was good. It was very crispy and flavorful. Don’t be put off by the appearance of the place. This is, in my opinion, the best lunch spot in downtown Honolulu.
After lunch we caught the bus back to Waikiki and stopped at the Royal Room at Waikiki Beach Walk. The Royal Room is actually the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame. It has displays of influential Hawaiian musicians and composers. We learned that they also have free performances once a month. The next one will be May 21. In addition to music, they have a person who gives free instruction in feather lei making.
Two doors down from the Royal Room is the Ukulele Store. We spent some time talking to the owner, who, it turns out, is friends with Jake Shimabukuro and Jody Kamisato, from whom I have some lessons scheduled. The owner let me noodle around on a new Koaloha mango concert uke. It’s a beautiful instrument with a great sound. Only $1550. It’s on my wish list. I doubt I’ll ever get it.
We seared an ahi steak and a salad for dinner. We hoped to get to the Hilton Hawaiian Village to hear Jerry Santos, but, after dinner and wine, that won’t happen tonight. Probably tomorrow.
As far as the Mai Tai and music tour goes, today was all music, even though it was not the music that we planned. No mai tais today.
I have not done a lot of writing, but I did polish a story and submit it to Shotgun Honey.
Our second day in Honolulu, it was time to start the Mai Tai and Music Tour. First stop was Waikiki Beach Walk on Lewers. For fifteen years, the Waikiki Beach Walk complex of shops has presented music on an outdoor stage. Today we caught Blaine Kia and his hula family. We saw Blaine last year at the same spot. Blaine is a musician and hula instructor. His wife and children also perform. The show is always entertaining. The dancers perform beautifully.
From the Beach Walk, we made our way two blocks over to Cuckoo Coconuts, which is supposed to have one of the best mai tais in Honolulu. Coconuts is new to us. In previous visits we had never gone down Royal Hawaiian Ave, From the outside, it’s hard to tell what it is. Inside, it’s a full on tiki bar with all the tiki furnishings.
Cuckoo Coconuts, Waikiki
We had the mai tais and the fish and chips. I won’t rate the mai tais yet until I’ve tried the other ones on our list, but we both thought they were good. A mai tai is basically light rum mixed with fruit juices and dark rum floated on top. There are two kinds of people in the world: those who stir their mai tais and those who don’t. Mary Fran stirs hers. I don’t. I prefer to keep the distinct line as long as I can. I also like to to sip from the glass rather than the straw to get that hit of the dark rum.
Mai tais, fish and chips at Cuckoo CoconutsAs
We also lucked out in that Coconuts has nightly entertainment. In this case, a singer and keyboardist. The singer has a great voice. She sings a variety of music. In particular, she did a great rendition of ”Blue Bayou.” We hope to get back to hear her again.
Tomorrow, we’re heading to Kaimuki to visit our favorite noodle shop. Aloha!
Diamond Head, Dillingham Fountain, Kapiolani Park at sunrise
We’re heading out tomorrow for an extended Hawaiian vacation. We’ll return the last week in June. The bags are packed and we’re itching to go. Unlike previous trips, we’re not doing a lot of island-hopping or condo jumping.
We stay for 30 days in the Colony Surf on the Diamond Head end of Waikiki. We’ve rented the same studio we stayed in last year on the top floor with a gorgeous view of Diamond Head. Imagine waking up to this sight every morning.
There is a small beach down below that is shared with Outrigger Canoe Club. It’s the perfect spot for catching the sunset. Not far from that beach is one of our favorite beaches—Kaimana Beach—where we used to go nearly every Sunday.
We’re calling this our Mai Tai and Music tour. Mary Fran has compiled a list of all the best Mai Tai bars and I’ve scouted out all the music venues. Some of them overlap of course. The House Without a Key in the Halekulani Hotel, The Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai Bar, and the Hilton Hawaiian Village have performers we hope to see and hear for the price of a drink or three. We discovered that the House Without A Key now recommends reservations, so we made them.
There are also some free performances we intend to take advantage of. Waikiki Beach Walk has regular performances by Blaine Kia and his wife’s hula halau. We also hope to catch the Royal Hawaiian Band at Iolani Palace or Kapiolani Park Bandstand.
We have tickets to hear Raiatea Helm at Honolulu Theater, Ledward Kaapana at Slack Key Lounge, and Henry Kapono and Ledward at the Blue Note. All in all, I’m pretty excited about Oahu.
After Oahu, we head to Maui. First to George Kahumoku’s Slack Key Guitar and Ukulele Workshop at Napili Kai. We attended last year and, man it was fantastic. I got to learn from, and play with, legendary Hawaiian musicians and up-and-coming performers. Plus an immersion in Hawaiian culture. We’ll be there a week. After that, we’ll be in Kihei Maui for two weeks.
Groovy Gumshoes, Private Eyes in the Psychedelic Sixties was released on Monday, April 11. This anthology was edited by Michael Bracken. It contains 15 private eye stories, all set in the 1960’s. The list of contributors includes some of the best short story writers today, so I’m honored to be among them: Tom Milani, Michael Bracken, N.M. Cedeño, Grant Tracey, Jack Bates, C.W. Blackwell, Steve Liskow, Robb White, Andrew Welsh-Huggins, Mark Thielman, Neil Plakcy, Adam Meyer, Hugh Lessig, Stephen D. Rogers, and me. You can order your copy directly from the publisher, Down & Out Books or from Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The cover is just an extra bonus.
When Michael Bracken put out his call for submissions, I had to jump on it. The sixties are my era. I entered high school in 1961 and graduated from college in 1969. The best music, the best literature, and the best cinema were produced in the sixties. As I look back, I think that the issue that defined the decade was segregation and the struggle for civil rights. For a time, the Vietnam war nearly overshadowed the civil rights cause, but eventually it became clear that the two issues were tightly bound up by racism. Our leaders were sending black men halfway around the world to kill brown men. Leaders who tried to prevent that were assassinated.
I was born near St. Louis, Missouri and that’s where I’d spent the sixties. I’d never written a story set in St. Louis, so this presented an opportunity. It also presented a challenge. Michael had suggested that the stories involve the events of the decade, not as background, but as an integral part of the story. However, the big headline events of that era, the ones that captured everyone’s attention and which determined the course of our lives for decades to come, all seemed to occur elsewhere. If I was going to write about St. Louis, I would have to dig deeper into its history. I hoped to find something that, while it might not have been a major event at the time, was nevertheless indicative of that era and became more important in the future.
In 1968, a black family sought to buy a home in Ferguson, Missouri. If successful, they would be the first.
Ferguson is a suburban St. Louis city which bordered my home town. Growing up, I knew nothing of Ferguson’s history. It was a pleasant community where Mom took us shopping for back-to-school clothes and where we went on Saturdays to see the movies. The fact that all of the residents were white did not register with me at the time. Even if it had, I would not have known that structural racism was the cause.
Ferguson was a sundown town. Non-whites who were found within the city limits after sundown were subject to harassment and arrest. At one time, the city might have posted signs saying that colored were not allowed there after sundown. By the time the sixties rolled around, such signs were no longer permissible, but the city remained a de facto sundown town. Redlining was the method of enforcement. Realtors would not show homes in redlined areas to non-whites. Banks would not lend to non-whites for homes in those areas. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was designed to put an end to redlining. In reality, the act pushed it below the surface.
Had the Fair Housing Act done as intended, had it been enforced, the pioneer black family might have had an easier time purchasing their home in Ferguson. Despite the resistance of realtors who didn’t even return phone calls, they persisted with the help of a white clergyman. Threats and intimidation followed. Eventually they prevailed, but it would be forty years before the story of their struggle and eventual success was told. By that time, many more families of color had moved into Ferguson. The city, from the outside, seemed an example of what the Fair Housing Act was designed to accomplish. But the shadow of racism is long. Institutional racism didn’t go away; it just mutated into a more toxic form. And so, in the summer of 2014, Ferguson exploded.
In 1968, the nation was torn apart by the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. The fires were stoked by the rhetoric of George Wallace. Nevertheless we had made progress on civil rights and we repudiated George Wallace at the ballot box. Jim Crow appeared, if not dead, then soon to be. We dared to hope. It was the dawning of the age of aquarius. In hindsight, we were naive.
My take on the story of Ferguson is that we underestimated the staying power of the beast. The busting of redlining was a victory in the fight against racism, but then we let our guard down. I began the story with a white private eye. He was something of a hippie, a member of the counter-culture, but I soon realized he wouldn’t do. His hope blinded him to the reality of what was happening. I needed someone who had faced the beast, who was more grounded in reality, whose hope was tempered with cynicism.
Meet Horatio Cutter, a black man recently returned from Vietnam. His weapon is a camera. He does freelance assignments for a white private eye firm. His ambition is to one day get his own PI license. Horatio has struggled for equality all his life, but it’s only when assigned to gather photographic evidence of the radical activities of a white clergyman that he confronts institutionalized racism head on. Though he enjoys a small measure of victory over the beast, the victory, as we all know, wasn’t final.
I’m honored and proud that “Sundown Town” appears in Groovy Gumshoes. I hope you all will get yourselves a copy and let me know how you like it. I plan on writing more Horatio Cutter stories.
I received word yesterday that my story, “Burnin Butt, Texas” has been nominated for a Derringer Award by the Short Mystery Fiction Society. The story appeared in Black Cat Mystery Magazine #10 in November, 2021.
Here is the complete list of finalists in each category.
Derringer Awards Finalists
The Short Mystery Fiction Society has announced the finalists for the 2022 Derringer Awards. Congratulations to all of them!
C.W. Blackwell. “Smoke and Consequences.” Mystery Tribune.
Wil A. Emerson. “An Unexpected Reunion.” BOULD Awards 2021 Short Story Anthology Vol 1.
John M. Floyd. “Tourist Trap.” Pulp Modern Flash.
Scott Von Doviak. “Millicent.” Shotgun Honey.
Robert Weibezahl. “Why Are You Just Sitting There?” Yellow Mama.
Brandon Barrows. “The Right to Hang.” On the Premises. October 2021.
Tina Debellegarde. “Tokyo Stranger.” A Stranger Comes to Town.
Trey Dowell. “Yelena Tried to Kill Me.” Mystery Weekly Magazine. August 2021.
Kathleen Marple Kalb. “The Thanksgiving Ragamuffin.” Justice For All.
Gabriel Valjan. “Burnt Ends.” This Time for Sure.
K.L. Abrahamson. “Chicken Coops and Bread Pudding.” Moonlight and Misadventure.
Michael Bracken. “The Downeaster Alexa.” Only the Good Die Young.
Teel James Glenn. “A Study of Death.” Mystery Weekly Magazine. October 2021.
Annie Reed. “Missing Carolyn.” Fiction River: Dark & Deadly Passions.
Mark Troy. “Burnin Butt, Texas.” Black Cat Mystery Magazine. Issue 10.
Jim Benn. “Glass.” Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. September/October 2021.
Michael Bracken. “Aloha Boys.” Hallmarks of the Job / Aloha Boys.
Barb Goffman. “A Tale of Two Sisters.” Murder on the Beach.
Annie Reed. “Little City Blues.” Mystery, Crime, and Mayhem: Long Ago.
Stacy Woodson. “Two Tamales, One Tokarev, and a Lifetime of Broken Promises.” Guns + Tacos: Season Three.
Chimichangas and a Couple of Glocks by David H. Hendrickson. Guns + Tacos, Season 3, Episode 15.
Fuller Park sits in the heart of Chicago’s killing zone. A trip down there, at night, puts your life at risk. But for Lizzie, it is life-changing. For there, at Fuller Park, is a certain taco truck, whose “special” can be life-saving, or life-taking, or both. Lizzie knows the danger, but, desperate to save the man she thinks she loves, she is willing to risk it all. Lizzie is a life-long victim of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Hendrickson navigates us through the pit of Lizzie’s personal hell from which there is only one way out. Will she be up to it? The reader can only sit back and hang on as this ride takes you through one dark turn after another. Get on board! You won’t regret it. Savor this spicy dish smothered in noir, violence on the side.
I’ll have more on the Hawai’i trip in a later post. This weekend we are in Chicago. Mary Fran visited some of her childhood friends. Ted, Mike, and I went to a Cubs and Cards game at Wrigley Field. We took the L to Wrigley. It was about an hour ride from our hotel. The L is an experience. When it gets to the Northside, it goes past apartments that are right next to the tracks, just like in The Blues Brothers. After getting off the L, we battled the crowds at Wrigleyville and made it to Al’s Beef, about two blocks from the field, for their famous Italian beef sandwiches. They were worth the effort to get there.
The friendly confines of Wrigley Field. I’d been there years before for game. Mike had been with us, but he was very young and remembered little of it. Ted had never been, but Wrigley was on his bucket list. The Cardinals are contending for a wild card spot, but the Cubs are out. Because of that, tickets were easy to get and half of the stadium appeared to be wearing red.
We had great seats under the roof, second level, third base side. It was an exciting game with some exchanges in home runs early on. The Cubs and Cards were tied up through the middle innings, but then, in the eighth, a double play with a play at the plate and a rundown between 2nd and 3rd took the wind out of the Cubs. The cards scored a couple of runs and won 8-5. We went back out to Wrigleyville and found a bar showing the Aggie game on TV. Such a let down. We took the L back to the hotel and picked up a Chicago-style deep dish pizza from Giordano’s.
Deep dish pizza is not my favorite. I prefer extra-thin crust. The deep dish had too much dough to my liking. Despite that, Giordano’s Chicago classic was pretty good. It was like a layered dish. Mozzarella on the bottom, pepperoni, more mozzarella, peppers, onions and sausage, pizza sauce on top. So thick that one slice was enough.
Ted left the next day. Mary Fran, Mike, and i drove through Mary Fran’s old neighborhood, past her old home near Marquette Park and then past the University of Chicago. We caught Lake Shore drive and took it past Soldier’s Field, the museums, Navy Pier, as far north as Loyola University. Then we went back to Millennium Park.Michigan Ave., north of the river, was closed to traffic for an art festival. the festival was disappointing, but underneath the Plaza of the Americas, on lower Michigan, we found The Billy Goat Tavern.
The Billy Goat is famous for the curse put on the Cubs by the owner who was refused entrance to Wrigley Field with his billy goat. The curse was lifted when the Cubs won the World Series in 2016, but the tavern remains below the street. Beers are $5, cheezborgers are $6. Decor does not appear to have changed since the 1960’s.
After leaving Billy Goat, we continued the driving tour with a stop at La Villita Park near the Little Village section of the Southside. La Villita was the setting for my story Dos Tacos Guatemaltecos y Una Pistola Casera. I had been there only virtually on Google Earth, so I wanted to see it for real. A surprise to me is that it is higher than the surrounding area, which doesn’t make a difference to the story. It is also nicer than I expected it to be, with well-maintained paths and fields. A soccer game was in progress. A lot of families had set up chairs and canopies. I located a spot where a taco truck might park. I also saw, to my surprise, that the park borders Cook County Jail. Again, that doesn’t make a difference to the story.
We drove past Comiskey Park, home of the White Sox. Mary Fran said seeing Soldier’s Field, Wrigley Field, and Comiskey Park is the sports trifecta. The neighborhood around Comiskey is depressed. It turns out that Fuller Park, the location of the story at the beginning of this post, is near Comiskey. Since we had earlier been to Millennium Park, where Gary Philips set his Guns + Tacos story, you could say we hit the Guns + Tacos trifecta—Millennium, La Villita, and Fuller.
We had a full moon last night and it was gorgeous. In the top photo, the moon is behind clouds, but you can see the moon glow on the ocean just beyond Diamond Head, which is bathed in moonlight. The area below our condo is bright with lights from homes, apartments, and traffic. Dillinghham Fountain is brightly lit. The next photo shows the same scene at daybreak.
Today is our last Saturday in Waikiki. We leave for Maui early next Saturday morning. I’m going to miss Waikiki. It’s been fun and exciting.
Last night we had dinner at Da Ono Hawaiian Food on Kapahulu. Da Ono is a long-time tradition in Honolulu. We ate there when we lived here in the 1980s and revisited it again during our trip in 2017. At that time, the restaurant was going out of business. In fact, we ate there on one of it’s last days. However, we discovered on this trip that, after being closed for awhile, it reopened in the same, somewhat shabby, location. The walls are decorated with vinyl record albums we remember from the 70s and 80s—Frank DeLima live at The Noodle Shop, Andy Bumatai, Rap Reiplinger’s Poi Dog, the Beamers, Peter Moon, Danny Kalekini. They’ve probably hung on the walls for more than 40 years. The tables and chairs are relatively new, however, and unscarred. We had pipikalau, chicken long rice, laulau, lomilomi salmon, poi, rice, and haupia. The laulau was gigantic. We split it, of course. I don’t know how anyone could eat a whole one. Overall, the food was good, but I think Helena’s is better. On the plus side,there was no waiting to be seated at Da Ono and it’s only a short bus ride from our condo.
Tonight, we’re exploring music again. Ben Kahele of Kanakapila, whom we heard in Hilo last month, will be performing at the Sheraton. The mai tais there are $20, but they are good. Tomorrow afternoon, Taimane Gardner is performing at the Blue Note. We have tickets for her show.
While we are here, I’m gathering sights and information for current stories I’m working on and for upcoming stories.
In the Ava Rome stories, Ava has an office above a small market on McCully Street. That particular building is where Nomos Institute, where I worked as a graduate student, was located. In my work in progress, that building has been torn down and Ava had to move. I walked by the site today, and, lo and behold, the building has been torn down. All of the other surrounding buildings are intact as far as I can recall. Instead there is a wooden wall with a mural surrounding the site.
One of the first people I met as a grad student at UH, was another grad student, Rosalie Tatsuguchi. Rosie was a few years older than me. Her father had been a Buddhist priest at a Jodo Shinshu mission on Beretania. She told me a haunting story about the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Her father was arrested, as were many Japanese community leaders. They did not see him until after the war. Her story inspired two of the books I’m currently working on. We used to visit her father’s temple for Bon Dances in July or August. The temple stands today.
Rosalie’s brother, Roland, took over the mission from their father. He is still head of it, though he would be 90 years old.
I had no idea what the inside of a Jodo Shinshu temple looks like. In the story, I made my best guess, and I was not far off. The only thing that surprised me were the pews. I expected parishioners to sit on the floor or on mats.
Jodo Shinhu Buddhism, or Shin Buddhism, also known as Pure Land Buddhism, was founded by the monk, Shinran Shonin.
Shinran thought humanity’s ability to listen to and practice the Buddhist teachings deteriorates over time and loses effectiveness in bringing individual practitioners closer to Buddhahood. Shinran saw the age he was living in as being a degenerate one where beings cannot hope to be able to extricate themselves from the cycle of birth and death through their own power. He believed all conscious efforts towards achieving enlightenment and realizing the Bodhisattva ideal were contrived and rooted in selfish ignorance; for humans of this age are so deeply rooted in karmic evil as to be incapable of developing the truly altruistic compassion that is requisite to becoming a Bodhisattva.
Due to his awareness of human limitations, Shinran advocates reliance on tariki, or other power—the power of Amida in order to attain liberation. Shin Buddhism can therefore be understood as a “practiceless practice”, for there are no specific acts to be performed such as there are in the “Path of Sages”. In Shinran’s own words, Shin Buddhism is considered the “Easy Path” because one is not compelled to perform many difficult, and often esoteric, practices in order to attain higher and higher mental states.
Jōdo Shinshū drew much of its support from lower social classes in Japan who could not devote the time or education to other esoteric Buddhist practices or merit-making activities. Today, it is probably the most widely practiced form of Buddhism in Japan..
Another setting used in my current work is Mo’ili’ili Japanese Cemetery on Kapiolani Blvd. The cemetery was founded in 1908 and sits atop a basalt lava flow, which makes if unsuitable for agriculture, but good for grave sites, as remains are interred in small mausoleums. The cemetery contains some 13,000 family markers, each with a small crypt for ashes of the deceased. It’s size represents the influx of Japanese in the late 1800, early 1900s. The cemetery is surrounded by highrise buildings and two-story apartments that crowd against the walls. You might not know it was there if you did not look for it. The first picture below was taken from a pedestrian overpass crossing Kapiolani. You can read more about the cemetery here.
There is a character in my story, a young girl named Yuki Nomura, who’s death on the eve of Pearl Harbor, is the subject of Ava’s investigation. I created the character long before I knew about the cemetery’s existence. It was only after many drafts that I wrote a scene depicting her family’s grave in the cemetery. I scrolled through an online list of families, but did not see the Nomura name. I didn’t look carefully enough. One tradition is that, if the grave contains the remains of a child or young woman, a certain type of statue or icon, called a Jizo is placed in front to protect the child in the afterlife. In my story, there is a Jizo in front of the Nomura family monument. The link to the cemetery restoration above, mentions finding Jizo at some of the graves. When I visited the cemetery, I looked for Jizo, but didn’t find any. Since I had not seen the Nomura name in the cemetery catalog, I was unprepared when I found the monument. I have to admit, the feeling on seeing the monument was unsettling. Once I got past that feeling, I wondered if I might find a Jizo. I didn’t, but look at the base of the monument. A teddy bear. I think a Jizo could not have been more unnerving.
Kaiwi, the female monk seal, who, for the previous two weeks, spent her days at Kaimana Beach near our condo, has now taken up residence on the beach right below our condo. This is the beach used by Outrigger Canoe Club to put their canoes in the water and take them out. The paddlers carry the long, six person canoes, up and down those steps behind Kaiwi. Some of the canoes in their red covers can be seen atop the steps. Outrigger is one of the premier, best funded, canoe clubs in Hawai’i, maybe the world, but they are stymied by Kaiwi. By law, monk seals cannot be disturbed because they are endangered. Whenever one shows up at a beach, as Kaiwi does, animal welfare folks mark off an area around her, in which people are not allowed to enter. The orange cones define the protected area. Right up to the Outrigger steps. There is no way they can get canoes up or down while Kaiwi is sunning herself.
As you can see in the photo above, hauling a canoe onto the beach takes all of the crew.
I never get tired of looking at the canoes and boats in the water near Diamond Head.
Another thing I never get tired of is seeing Diamond Head in the morning. Since we have been in Hawai’i, I’ve made it a point to photograph the view from our condo at sunrise and again at sunset. We have not always been in a position to see sunrise, but I gat what I can. While in Waikiki, for example, the sun comes up behind Diamond Head, which is always dramatic. At our location, we see gorgeous sunsets over the Waianae Mountains (actually setting over Ewa.) Here’s sunrise this morning over Diamond Head.
High surf advisories were out this morning. When I went up Diamond Head, I found a lot of surfers checking out the waves. Some were saying the conditions were dangerous and might require some rescues. Not being a surfer, I can’t say, but these are the waves this morning. they do appear larger than on previous days. The guy in the photo is about 300 feet above the ocean.
Waikiki, Diamond Head Beach, 8/17/21
I’ve been taking Uke lessons with an instructor in Kaimuki, only a few miles from where we are. When we lived here, we did not get to Kaimuki often because we lived in another section of town. We’re sorry. that we didn’t. Kaimuki is an older area, homes from about the 1930s, and a downtown area with small shops. and restaurants. We had had lunch at Noods, which I mentioned last week. On another day, we went to a great Chinese Dim Sum restaurant called Happy Day.. Nearby, we found a great place for poke—Tamura’s. They are actually a wine and liquor store, but they have a poke counter with a dozen varieties of poke. Really good!
Took the bus deep into the end of Manoa Valley, yesterday, and walked to Lyon Arboretum. It’s a beautiful tropical forest with sections devoted to ethnobotany.
What I’m Reading:
Two Tamales, One Tokarev, and a Lifetime of Broken Promises by Stacy Woodson
In episode 14 of the Guns + Tacos series, we meet Viv, a former street hustler who got religion in prison and became a minister to serve the people who, like herself, made a wrong turn in life and need someone to point them to the way back. It was devotion to her brother that caused Viv to take the wrong turn in the first place, and, now that she’s found her own way back, she wants to make sure her brother does, too. Brother, however, can’t help but stray. Inevitably, he strays so far that he is beyond the reach of prayer. Viv, in order to save him, must turn to something more powerful than prayer—something that only a certain taco truck can provide. After a lifetime of broken promises, Viv takes steps to make sure there will be no more. Woodson delivers one unbroken promise in this story; that of a compelling, fast-paced tale of desperation and sisterly devotion with an ending that, for all the twists and turns, this reader didn’t see coming.
This morning started off great but ended up worrisome. I ran up Diamond Head, something I haven’t done since about 1981. From 1977 to 1981 I attended the Honolulu Marathon Clinics on Sundays in Kapiolani Park at the base of Diamond Head. I probably ran Diamond Head 30+ times a year for five years and finished six marathons in that time. Now I’m back. I walked it a few times in prep last week and ran it today. God, it felt good to run it. The shot of Koko Head was taken from the top near the lighthouse.
This morning I had an ukulele class at Ukulele Hale in Kaimuki. I’ve been struggling to find lessons since we’ve been here, but, because of covid, many are shut down. I have four more lessons at Ukulele Hale before we head to Maui for the Kahumoku workshop.
Today, the governor of Hawaii imposed restrictions on gatherings because of covid. They had been loosening up, but cases have been on the rise (though not rising as fast as Texas.) The new order resticts public gatherings to 25 or fewer. We actually learned about this order while watching performers at Waikiki Beachwalk. They have been performing every Tuesday night, but they announced that this is their last performance for the immediate future, because gatherings have to be limited to 25 or fewer.
My worry, of course, is that the new restrictions will result in the Kahumoku workshop to be canceled or severely curtailed. This pisses me off. Warning—rant coming. This virus is deadly. People need to care for each other and protect each other because, in a close society, failing to protect one is failing to protect all. We have the means to combat this virus. Vaccines stop the virus from reproducing. If the virus can’t reproduce, it can’t spread, and , more importantly, it can’t evolve into more dangerous forms. We are seeing it evolve. Those of you who refuse the vaccine on any grounds—freedom of choice or whatever bullshit you throw up—are killers, just as someone who runs a red ight, or fires a weapon into a crowd are killers. By refusing the vaccine, you are endangering me, my family, my children and grandchildren, and for that I cannot forgive you. We have freedom only as long as we have life. It is absolutely false to refuse a vaccine in the name of freedom, because vaccine refusal leads to death, not life, not freedom.
Okay, I’ve mentioned poke before, so I won’t go into that. Last week we went to Helena’s Hawaiian Food. Helena’s is a local favorite going back to 1946. They are located in Kalihi, a blue-collar neighborhood west of downtown, down the hill from Kamehameha Schools. The bus ride took an hour. The wait in line was 45 minutes. Helena’s hasn’t changed much since we were last there 35 years ago. They have painted the walls inside and have replaced the furniture (I think). It is still small and the menu is the same. We had poi, lomi-lomi salmon, kalua pork (imu baked pig), pipi kaula (beef short ribs), and squid luau. Squid luau is a mush of taro leaves, squid, and coconut milk. I had forgotten how good it tastes. The meal was served with sliced Maui onions and sea salt for the side. For dessert we had haupia, a coconut custard. The ride, the wait, were all worth it. Helena’s is, was, and always will be, the best in Hawaiian food. Well, we will try Da Ono soon and see if that still stacks up to what we remember.
After my uke lesson, we went around the corner to Nood’s Ramen Noodle shop on Waialae Avenue in Kaimuki. Ramen shops have popped up everywhere since we left. They seem to have taken the place of saimin. I had the August special. Curry ramen with chicken katsu (chicken cutlet.) Besides the ramen noodles, it had bamboo shoots, green onions, a shoyu egg (semi-hardboiled in shoyu), seaweed, and the cutlet on top. The broth was curry and shoyu. Fantastic! Broke da mout’ as Hawaiians say. Mary Fran had miso ramen with char siu and a shoyu egg. Also excellent. We also had their kimchee pot stickers.
Following the performance at Waikiki Beachwalk, we went for mai tais at the Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai Bar.They pride themselves on having the best mai tais. Their’s is a modification of Vic Bergeron’s original recipe. The only difference is that they add pineapple juice to the mix of orgeat, orange curacao, lime juice, and two rums. Where Vic used light and dark Caribbean rums, the Mai Tai Bar uses Lahaina rums.
In making a mai tai, the light rum and other juices are mixed and the dark rum is floated on top to produce the two-layer effect.There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who stir their mai tai and those who don’t. I’m one of the latter. I like to sip the dark rum from the top and, alternately, dip a straw into the light part. Eventually, everything gets mixed, of course, until then, I get a varied taste sensation.
The location is Honolulu, Hawai’i, the date, a few days before Thanksgiving, 1941. The discovery of the bodies of two young people, one, the nephew of the top admiral in Hawai’i, the other, an unidentified young woman, gives Honolulu Police Detective Joe McGrady his most challenging case. The story is set against the lead-up to the attack on Pearl Harbor. The whole country knows war is imminent. What McGrady doesn’t know is how the deaths of these two people affected the cataclysm that follows.
McGrady gets a lead on the killer, but is unable to learn the identity of the young woman. He tracks the killer through the Pacific to Hong Kong where he arrives the day before the Japanese invade and conquer the territory. McGrady is taken prisoner, but is befriended by a Japanese official who helps him identify the young woman and the reason for her death.
McGrady rides out the war in Tokyo where he witnesses the carnage that US air raids inflict on the populace. He also meets a beautiful woman who changes his life. Returning to Honolulu after the war, he is able to get his old job back, but learns that the case that sent him to the Pacific, has been closed. McGrady, however, believes the killer is still at large and continues to work the case on his own, sparking the ire of his superior.
Once again McGrady returns to Hong Kong to confront the killer and obtain justice for the two young people. He finally completes his mission in the dead of winter, five Decembers after taking on the case.
Five Decembers is a gripping story of heart-rending love and devotion in a time of inhumanity and destruction. It is wrapped around a skillfully written tale of murder and espionage. Kestrel masterfully recreates the setting and atmosphere of pre-war Honolulu and the Pacific. This is an absorbing novel that you will not want to put down and which you will revisit again and again. It will be released in October by Hard Case Crime. It is available for pre-order now on Amazon. A reminder that this year marks the eightieth anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. This book makes a valuable contribution to the literature of that era.
Like a summer heat wave, the new season of Guns + Tacos is on us. July saw the launch of season three, episode 13, Two More Tacos, a Beretta .32, and a Pink Butterfly. Dave Zeltserman delivers all the noir and all the carnage readers have come to expect from the series while twisting our emotions into tight knots,
“Lance was the guy to call whenever there was an ugly, festering problem that badly needed lancing.”
That was how he got his moniker. The festering problem? A botched job by a low-level hit man that left a witness in the wind. Lance’s job is to find the witness and eliminate her. All he has to go on is that she is blonde and has a pink butterfly tattoo on her butt cheek. Lance sets an elaborate trap to catch the pink butterfly, but, when he does catch her, what does he do with her? Lance’s solution heats up the streets of Chicago. Once again, everybody’s favorite taco truck purveys the weaponry that gets the action started. Dave Zeltserman has crafted a story that you can’t put down. The twist at the end is both satisfying and disturbing. From Down & Out Books. Also available on Amazon. Do yourself a favor and get the whole season.