Rick and Nancy are driving the North Shore of Oahu five days after their wedding. Rick has never been to Hawaii before; Nancy previously lived on Oahu for six months.
So far it has been a fairly normal honeymoon. In the tiny bathroom of their shack in Waikiki a giant cockroach flew at Rick and so frightened him that he screamed and dropped his toothbrush into the toilet. The next day, Rick seemed to be criticizing Nancy for having had a panic attack on a dark and confusing freeway exit. Six months ago, on her third try, at the age of thirty-six, she’d finally gotten her license just in time to start her commute to a corporate job on the Peninsula.
Rick is thirty-eight years old and still doesn’t have a driver’s license! How dare he say anything to her about her driving! She pulls off her wedding ring and throws it in his face.
During the screaming fight that follows, Nancy is suddenly hit by something Rick had said an hour before their backyard wedding ceremony. They were sitting in their living room with the Unitarian minister and Rick’s mother, the dear woman they both call Mom, who was so moved she had to leave the room to hide her tears. Rick had said, “I think marriage is romantic.” Any man could drive a car but only Rick could say marriage is romantic and really, truly mean it. Nancy bursts into tears and throws herself into his arms. He puts the ring on her finger for the second time. Making love is always particularly passionate after one of their fights.
Wedding ring now permanent on Nancy’s ring finger, she’s driving the North Shore and Rick is scanning the roadside trying to spot a historic marker. She warns him, “It’s just like the others, but it may be faded or defaced and turned at an angle to the road, so keep your eyes peeled.”
He’ll never be able to spot it, she thinks to herself right before he yells, “There it is!” Afraid of oncoming traffic, she puts her flashers on, pulls cautiously across the road, and parks.
Nancy’s boyfriend when she lived here eleven years ago, Kehaulani Vreedenberg, had taken her to the Pu’u o Mahuka Heiau. It was not a site most Hawaiians would share with a haole, so she was deeply honored that he had brought her here and taught her how to make what he called “a Hawaiian prayer.”
The marker is turned away from the road and the image of King Kamehameha partially scratched out, just as she remembers it. They have actually found a sacred place she hasn’t seen in more than a decade! A wide field of pale-green grass growing from blood-red earth seems to extend all the way to the distant edge of a cliff. It takes them a few minutes to find the path she and Kehau followed. Kehau had instructed her to go barefoot on it, so now Nancy slips off her sandals. She thinks Rick won’t want to go barefoot, but he obligingly takes off his moccasins. “Look how the green of the grass vibrates against the red of the earth,” she points out. They see no one; they’re alone here together.
The path is still as smooth as it was when she came here with Kehau; the sun as hot on their backs. He was twice her size, this young man who’d enlisted himself as her protector on Hotel Street. He’d walked in front of her and she’d put her hand on his hip as a guide.
Now she and Rick walk side-by-side holding hands. It’s half a mile to the cliff-top amphitheater. The first they see of it is low walls of black volcanic rocks. When they step through an opening between two walls, the grass beneath their feet is soft. It is an amphitheater large enough to accommodate at least one hundred Hawaiian warriors.
Among low-lying ti plants with massive dark-green leaves are scattered the same roughly rounded black volcanic rocks that create the walls. Nancy shows Rick how to find a rock “the size of a warrior’s fist,” as Kehau had said and she finds one for herself the same size and shape. Then she shows Rick how to pluck a broad, dark-green ti leaf from as close as possible to the base of the plant. “It should be ‘as long and as broad as a warrior’s arm,’ Kehau said,” she tells Rick.
She shows him how to take the leaf and, starting at its tip, wrap it around the rock. When each reaches the middle of the leaf, he imitates her as she folds her leaf perpendicular to itself, wraps it in the other direction to almost cover the rock, and then anchors the stem under the leaf.
Standing side-by-side, they place their rocks at the top of a wall that overlooks – dizzyingly far below – the massive waves of Waimea Bay. Silently they hold hands and silently pray together for a happy marriage. Looking around them, they notice that the walls of the heiau are constructed of rounded lava rocks, each wrapped in a ti leaf, though most of the leaves are dry and many near the ground are wearing away.
As they gaze at the white teeth of the Pacific devouring the beach below, Nancy tells Rick what she knows of the history of this holy site: a mixture of what Kehaulani told her and what she learned from an anthropology graduate student named Jocelyn, with whom she’d shared a house. In the late 18th century, Kehau said, an old and deeply respected Kahuna had a dream in which he saw Oahu overrun by white men. In 1792, Captain George Vancouver’s ship, HMS Daedalus, anchored near here to take on water. Three seamen climbing up the stream bed below were easily captured and sacrificed to the God of War at this heiau. Three years later, King Kamehameha came from the island of Hawaii and captured Oahu by flinging the warriors of Oahu off the highest point on the island, the Pali. She’s shown that peak to Rick earlier today.
Back at the car, Rick examines the map. “Look, here’s a freeway going straight down through the center of the island to Honolulu,” he suggests.
“Not a chance! That freeway goes up and down really steep hills and Kehau once drove me on it at almost 100 miles an hour.”
“Because when he brought me here to the heiau, he’d told me he was twenty-five. Later, though, I saw his driver’s license and found he was only nineteen, seven years younger than me. He was just a kid and kids have to do that kind of stuff. Later he bragged to his friends that I was cowering on the floor of the car screaming.”
“I don’t remember being on the floor of the car, but I imagine I did scream a few times.”
He laughs and hugs her. “Aren’t you going to take me to see Hotel Street today?”
“You really want to go?” Nancy asks.
“Of course I do.”
Pleased, she replies, “If so, I want us to get there before the sun goes down.”
“Well, then,” he suggests gently, “we could just stay in the slow lane of that freeway.”
Rick thinks Hotel Street is totally cool. “A perfect set for a gangster movie.”
“Skip the movie part,” Nancy warns him. “It’s not a set.”
“Looks like downtown Kansas City back when jazz there had soul. It’s gritty.”
“Sure. It’s a red-light district on the edge of a Chinatown, like San Francisco. A lot funkier, though. Que’s group at the Hubba Hubba played some okay jazz. Nothing like Kansas City, but they did cut a 45 called ‘Funky, Funky Hotel Street.’”
Nancy is looking for the storefronts where, from the stage, she’d watched Gypsy fortunetellers through the open club door. She can’t find them now.
But, as she turns toward the other side of Hotel Street, the now-horizontal sun paints the huge, weathered-brick building a vivid rose. The passage of the years lends a similar enhancement to Nancy’s memory and her heart clenches with nostalgia. “There it is! Want to go in?”
A tall, slender, brown-skinned waitress meets them at the entrance. In a deep contralto, she says, “Hi, I’m Saundra. Welcome to Club Hubba Hubba. We’ve got a live band coming on soon and many gorgeous dancers for your entertainment. Let me find you a table.”
They follow Saundra to a table in a corner of the club. Nancy immediately spots the club owner, Tad Matsuoka, sitting at the bar. “Saundra, could you tell Tad that I was Serena Wild? My husband and I are here on our honeymoon.”
When Saundra comes back with their drinks, Rick reaches for his wallet. “It’s on the house.” says Saundra, “Tad remembers you and he wishes you happiness and says congratulations. And so do I!”
“Thank you, Saundra! And please thank Tad for me. He always treated me well.”
Rick, never stingy, tips Saundra ten dollars. They raise their glasses and smile in Tad’s direction.
“Did he really treat you well, or were you just being polite?”
“Well, look how polite he’s being right now by not coming over. He doesn’t know how a new husband might react to meeting him. Tad gave me a glass of water once.”
“Well, listen. I always worked the day shift from 2:00 PM to 8:00 PM. Hardhearted Hazel bartended on the night shift. Once I had to work a double shift because one of the night dancers hadn’t come in. After ten hours straight, I was exhausted and dehydrated. I asked Hazel for a glass of water and she said, ‘You get customer buy you water!’ This was ridiculous because the non-alcoholic ‘drinks’ customers purchased for the dancers who sat with them contained less than half a cup of liquid. Tad never tried to force me to B-drink. I just walked away from Hazel and asked him for water and he gave me a tall glass with ice in it.
“In the daytime the club wasn’t like that at all. We dancers ran that shift; nobody pushed us around. The other dancers didn’t care if you sat with customers as long as you got onstage on time. If there was no pleasant customer in the club, I used to climb the ladder up to a balcony above the dressing room where no one could see me from below. I’d sit up there and read and write in my diary. I called it my study. Once, though, a giant cockroach flew at me up there while I was bent forward brushing my hair. I had to struggle down the ladder with my hair in my eyes to escape it.”
Rick is looking around the Hubba Hubba. “This place is enormous! Look at those ceilings; they must be 18 or 20 feet high. Like a barn, a really big barn. What was it built to be? It’s definitely 19th-century, even mid-19th century. Isn’t Hotel Street near the port? I wonder if it could have been a warehouse long ago.”
“I never thought about that before, but I’ll bet you’re right! Maybe even a barn down here to keep animals and an upstairs where they’d store stuff unloaded from ships. The ceiling on the second story is almost as high as this one. The whole place is cool without air-conditioning. I always loved the Hubba Hubba because it’s the only club I ever worked in that has fresh air. There‘s cross ventilation between those windows way up there. See the fans?”
Nancy wonders if they’re talking about the club building because both are embarrassed by what they see on the stage. When they first came in, two nude girls had got to their feet and danced up and down the long runway for a while but soon each subsided in front of her particular customer to seductively wave her naked legs while offering him a close-up view of her genitalia. Nancy wants to be sure Rick knows, “None of us were doing that on the day shift in ’73 or ’75.
“We really danced. When I was first here in ’73, I worked with a couple of women from Mills College. One of them, Pam, was a highly trained modern dancer who just did her highly trained modern dance up and down the runway, never stripping down to less than a pair of black panties. She was tall and blonde and had a tough black girlfriend named CC always in attendance. I still remember Pam spotting a scorpion on the floor and yelling, ‘Step on it, CC!’ She wanted to put the carapace in amber and wear it around her neck. Pam was a Scorpio.”
The second time Serena Wild came to Club Hubba Hubba, she brought her lover, Claire, with her. By then, Serena had worked in Arizona, Canada, Alaska, Guam, and had saved enough money to travel around England for six weeks looking at cathedrals, museums, and the places she’d read about all her life.
By this time, Serena had costumes made by a dressmaker, glamour photographs, newspaper clippings, and five different shows she’d choreographed herself. Assuming she must have toughened up over the last two years, Tad booked Serena for the night shift and put Savannah (Claire’s dancing name) on the day shift. When he saw Claire, though, he asked Nancy “Isn’t she under eighteen?” Her lover was twenty-five, but Nancy just told Tad that Savannah was legal, implying “barely legal.” Tad agreed to let them work together on the same 2 PM to 8 PM shift. He put an ad in the paper with Serena Wild’s best picture and the announcement, SHOW BEGINS AT 4 PM. He did them a favor so that they could be together all the time. They rented a house in Kailua, and six days a week walked two miles to the bus that took them across to Honolulu, danced all afternoon and evening, took the bus back to Kailua, walked two miles home, ate a big meal, and slept like babies. Nancy was reading Swann’s Way and Claire was reading Moby Dick. Claire had read most of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past and Nancy had read Moby Dick, so this gave them a lot to talk about.
Now in 1984, Nancy asks Rick, “Remember that jazz cassette labeled Vanish?”
“Yeah, yeah, the Vanish tape. Great stuff. Ornette Coleman, Victoria Spivey…Really sophisticated stuff.”
“Claire and I worked with Vanish, the woman who danced to that tape. First time we saw her, she was tying herself into knots in the corner of the dressing room, meanwhile talking to another dancer about the ghost of a stripper who hanged herself at the Follies in Los Angeles. At first we thought she was weird, but, as we got to know her, we realized she was extraordinary. She used to announce herself on the mic as ‘Vanish from the planet Xeron, halfway between the sun and the North Star.’ She explained to us that really means the earth.”
Vanish had lived above the club with four-year-old Suzanne, her daughter by a jazz musician. Under the high ceiling up there, dozens of people lived in cubicles separated from each other by partitions barely high enough to keep them from seeing each other. From these cubicles came a constant, muted murmur. Vanish and Suzanne did yoga frequently, spent a lot of time at the beach, and both seemed calm and relaxed.
Nancy tells Rick, “Vanish’s show was mind blowing. She was incredibly skinny and flexible and strong. She could do walkovers. She could arch herself up into a backbend and dance down the runway in that arch, kicking her legs up in the air, pointing her toes, and dancing to that great jazz. She wasn’t pretty, but lots of guys in the audience were totally in awe of her. I’m glad Claire insisted on making a copy of that Vanish tape.”
“Me too. By the way, did you see Kehau again in ’75?”
“Yeah, he came around. Claire was crazy about him. She thought Kehau was sweet, which he really was, especially considering he’d been working on Hotel Street since he was eighteen. She thought he was adorable, and would snuggle up and climb all over him.”
Rick is shocked. “Really? In ’75, that certainly isn’t how Claire acted when I ran into you guys on the N car. She didn’t say a word to me. Well, maybe she said, ‘Hi,’ but that was it.”
“Kehau was no threat to her, but you were, in ’75 anyway. Meeting you freaked Claire out because, when she listened to how we talk to each other, I think she realized that you and I were meant to be together. That was seven years before I started realizing it myself!
Rick and Nancy tease each other that their favorite place on Maui is the double bed in their beachfront condominium. But they are confident that making love is forever; Nancy’s access to a gentle, temperate beach will last less than a week. In the twelve months she’d lived and worked on Pacific islands, she developed a somewhat effective dog paddle and also discovered she could easily float on her back on salt water. Rick spends most of his time on the beach reading and watching her play with deep purple swells and breaking waves of pale turquoise.
One day Nancy drives them halfway down the famously twisting road to Hana. When she’s sure she’s conquered the trepidation intensified by handmade wooden crosses at nearly every sharp twist in the road, they agree to turn back. At the side of the deserted road, Rick takes a Polaroid of Nancy next to a small waterfall.
They return every day or so to their favorite place on Maui, the Iao rainforest, where the air resonates with the chuckle and splash of fast-moving streams that follow paths canopied by variegated leaves and flowers. Rick is thrilled when they emerge from one of these green corridors into a clearing where he immediately recognizes a Hollywood script conference in progress. Later they’ll wonder if this was an omen of their most dangerous adventure together.
The closer they get to the Iao Needle, the louder sounds the stream now plunging through a rocky bed. Nancy believes that this massive, moss-covered volcanic monolith is the phallus of Kanaloa, the Hawaiian God of the Underworld. She follows the stream into a grassy glade where it forms a shallow pool that the noonday sun warms to a pleasant coolness. A thick growth of delicate ferns makes the pool invisible from the path, so Nancy slips off her dress and immerses herself.
As she relaxes here, perhaps it is Kanaloa who starts to loosen the knot of distrust formed in her heart in childhood when her father walked out of her life forever. Nancy’d never tried to find him lest he not want to see her. She’d discovered recently that he’d died in September 1971, the same year and the same month she first met Rick.
On stage at the Broadway and 42nd St. Follies, Serena Wild in the heart of New York saw a tear slip down a young man’s cheek and had her hand kissed by old men grateful to her for reminding them of the erotic art form that had died there years before. In Switzerland, unable to bear to sell her body as was considered inevitable, Serena Wild herself died in Europe and just plain Nancy came home to San Francisco to become a bookstore clerk.
Gradually Nancy has come to trust the one man who can and does love her, the man who’ll never leave her, who’ll be here with her for the rest of his life. Nancy pulls her dress back on and goes to find Rick reading on a bench. “Come with me,” she demands and compels him to immerse himself with her in their sacred pool.
The Polaroid Rick took of her next to a waterfall will fade in their wedding album into parallel streams of white water and bare white flesh.