Nothing to me is so erotic as a hotel room, and therefore so
penetrated with life and death. Buddy Hamstra offered me a hotel
job in Honolulu and laughed at my accepting it so quickly. I had
been trying to begin a new life, as people do when they flee to
distant places. Hawaii was paradise with heavy traffic. I met
Sweetie in the hotel, where she was also working. One day when we
were alone on the fourth floor I asked,"Do you want to make love?"
and she said,"Part of me does." Why smile? At last we did it, then
often, and always in the same vacant guest room, 409. Sweetie got
pregnant, our daughter was born. So, within a year of arriving, I
had my new life, and as the writer said after the crack-up, I found
new things to care about. I was resident manager of the Hotel
Honolulu, eighty rooms nibbled by
Buddy, the hotel's owner, said,"We're multistory."
I liked the word and the way he made it multi-eye.
The rooms were small, the elevator was narrow, the lobby was tiny,
the bar was just a nook.
"Not small," Buddy said."Yerpeen."
I had gotten to these green mute islands, humbled and broke again,
my brain blocked, feeling superfluous, out of the writing business,
and trying to start all over at the age of forty-nine. A friend of
mine recommended me to Buddy Hamstra. I applied for this job. It
wasn't for material; it was the money. I needed work.
"My manager's a typical local howlie --- a reetard," Buddy
said."Fondles the help. Always cockroaching booze. Sniffs around
the guest rooms."
"That's not good," I said.
"And this week he stepped on his dick."
"Not good at all."
"He needs therrpy," Buddy said."He's got lots of baggage."
"Maybe that's what he likes about the hotel --- that he has a place
to put it."
Buddy sucked his teeth and said,"That's kind of funny."
The idea of rented bedrooms attracted me. Shared by so many
dreaming strangers, every room was vibrant with their secrets, like
furious dust in a sunbeam, their night sweats, the stammering
echoes of their voices and horizontal fantasies; and certain
ambiguous odors, the left-behind atoms and the residue of all the
people who had ever stayed in it. The hotel bedroom is more than a
symbol of intimacy; it is intimacy's very shrine, scattered with
the essential paraphernalia and familiar fetish objects of its
rituals. Assigning people to such rooms, I believed I was able to
influence their lives.
Buddy Hamstra was a big, blaspheming, doggy-eyed man in drooping
shorts, a wheezy smoker and heavy drinker. His nickname was"Tuna."
He was most people's nightmare, a reckless millionaire with the
values of a delinquent and a barklike laugh. He liked saying,"I'm a
crude sumbitch." He was from the mainland --- Sweetwater, Nevada.
But he pretended to be worse than he was. He had the sort of
devilish gaze that showed a mind in motion.
"What's yours, drink or weed?"
We had met in his hotel bar. He had a cocktail in one hand and a
cigarette in the other.
"I got some killer buds," he said.
"Beer for me."
We talked idly --- about his tattoos, a forthcoming eclipse of the
sun, the price of gas, and the source of the weed he was smoking
--- before he got down to business, and he asked suddenly,"Any
"I've stayed in a lot of hotels."
He laughed in his barking way. And then, out of breath from the
laughter, he went slack-jawed and gasped blue smoke. Finally he
recovered and said,"Hey, I've known a lot of assholes, but that
doesn't make me a proctologist."
I admitted that I had no experience running a hotel, that I was a
writer --- had been a writer. Every enterprise I had run, I had run
in my head. I hated telling him that. I mentioned some of my books,
because he asked, but nothing registered. That pleased me. I did
not want to have a past.
"You're probably great at thinking up names," he said."Being as
you're a writer."
"That's part of the job."
"Part of the hotel business, too. Naming your restaurants, your
lounges, your function rooms. Naming the bar."
His mention of the bar made me look up and see that we were sitting
in Momi's Paradise Lounge.
Buddy drank, held the booze in his mouth, frowned, then swallowed
and said,"The manager here is a complete bozo. Dangerous,
"In what way dangerous?"
"Has an argument with a guest, right? The guest storms out. When he
comes back he finds that the manager has bricked up his doorway,
sealed the whole room off. What he was saying was, it's the guest's
room but it's our doorway."
I tried to imagine a guest opening the door and seeing fresh bricks
where there should have been an opening.
"Another guest --- a real pain, granted --- this manager put some
goldfish in his toilet so he couldn't use it, but the guest flushed
it, and so the manager filled the whole bathroom with industrial
foam." Buddy sipped his drink, looking thoughtful."Someone asked
him, 'What's your problem?' The manager says, 'Masturbation takes
points off your IQ each time. Hey, I could have been a
At that moment Buddy's mobile phone rang. He answered it and handed
me his business card and whispered for me to visit him the next day
at his house on the North Shore. Then he exploded into the phone.
Hearing him hollering at someone else, I realized how polite he had
been with me.
Buddy was watching an inaudible television when I found him the
next day. Because he was supine and less animated, he looked more
debauched. He lay in a hammock on a porch of his house, a large
square building with porches like pulled-out bureau drawers,
standing among rattling palm trees at the edge of Sunset Beach and
the toppling, sliding waves. The sound of surf overwhelmed the
sound of the television program he was watching. The women in
bathing suits on the TV were not half as attractive as the ones on
the beach below where he lay.
"This lolo manager," he said, rolling his eyes, continuing where we
had left off."I'll give you another example. He sees a very pretty
guest and introduces himself. He accompanies her to her room, they
admire the view from her lanai, and he says, 'Excuse me.' He goes
into her john and takes a big loud leak." Buddy shook his head with
disapproval."The woman is so spooked she moves out."
As I listened, I watched a rat moving smoothly along the baseboard
of Buddy's big house like a blown leaf.
"He's got a professional massage table in one room. He offers
massages to women. Now and then he goes a little too far. Some like
it, others don't. There are complaints."
"He's a qualified masseur?"
"He's a three-balled tomcat. Like I said, he stepped on his
I laughed in spite of myself, and Buddy joined me, barking. This
second time I saw Buddy, he seemed more devilish. Watching him
swinging in his hammock, like a big fish in a net, I was reminded
of his nickname. Holding a glass of vodka on the dome of his belly,
Buddy listed the manager's lapses. The man drank and disgraced
himself. The man dipped into the cash register. The man insulted
guests, sometimes using abusive language. He had been discovered
sleeping in his office. He had a weakness for giving deals to
guests who had done him favors, which was why the hotel had several
long-term residents who could not be dislodged. He took pleasure in
misleading people, and rubbed his hands when they went
"This week he got into a world of shit," Buddy said."He had a
little flirtation with one of the guests. She's a fox but she's
married --- she's on vacation here with her husband. After this
dipshit manager made love to her she passed out, and he shaved off
her pubic hair. She had to explain that to her old man!" Buddy
clucked, looked closely at me, and said,"What do you think?"
I laughed so hard at this weird outrage I could not reply. But I
was also embarrassed. In the world I had left, people didn't do
Buddy said,"A person's laugh says an awful lot."
That made me self-conscious, so I said,"He sounds pretty colorful.
But I don't know whether I'd want him to run my business."
"You said writers are good at thinking up names," Buddy said."We
need a new name for the bar."
"'Momi's Paradise Lounge' isn't bad."
"Except that Momi is my ex-wife. She used to tend bar. We just got
divorced. My new wahine, Stella, hates the name. So?"
He raised himself up in the hammock to face me. And I tried to
think through all these distractions --- the TV, the dumping waves,
the women in bikinis lying on the beach, the scuttling rat.
"What about calling it 'Paradise Lost'?"
Buddy said nothing. He became very still, but his mind was in
motion. I was aware of a straining sound, like the grunt of a
laboring motor. Later I grew to recognize this as his way of
thinking hard, his brain whirring like an old machine, cocked with
a mainspring and the murmuring movement of its works coming out of
his mouth. At last, in a whisper, he said,"It's the name of . . .
what? Some song? Some story?"
"Poem. I like it."
And he relaxed. I stopped hearing the mechanism of slipping belts
and uncoiling springs and meshing cogs from his damp
"You'll do fine."
o I had the job. Was it because I was a writer? Buddy didn't read,
which made the printed word seem like magic to him and perhaps gave
him an exaggerated respect for writers. He was a gambler, and I was
one of his gambles. He was one of the last of a dying breed, a
rascal in the Pacific. His hiring me was another example of the
sort of audacious risk he boasted about.
"The staff is great," he said."They'll do your job for you, and the
rest is oh-jay-tee. But I need someone who looks like he
knows what he's doing."
"It's not rocket surgery," Buddy said."And you've got the basic
"Reason being, you're a mainland howlie." He laughed and hitched
himself tighter in his hammock and sent me on my way.
The word"mainland," spoken in Hawaii, sounded to me like"Planet
Whenever I felt superfluous, which was an old intimation, I
reminded myself that I was running a multistory hotel. People in
Hawaii asked me what I did for a living. I never said,"I'm a
writer" --- they would not have known my books --- but rather,"I
run the Hotel Honolulu." That gave me a life and, among the
rascals, a certain status.
After thirty years of moving around the world, and thirty years of
books, I was hired because I was a white man, a haole. I had made
and lost several --- not fortunes but livings; lost houses, lost
land, lost family, lost friends; goodbye to cars, to my library.
Other people were now sitting in lovely chairs I had bought and
looking at paintings I used to own, hung on walls I had paid
I had never had a backup plan. My idea was to keep moving. Hawaii
seemed a good place for starting over. This hotel was ideal. Buddy
understood. He looked to be the sort of man who had also lost a lot
in his life --- wives, houses, money, land; not books. I needed a
rest from everything imaginary, and I felt that in settling in
Hawaii, and not writing, I was returning to the world.
We were not on the beach. We were the last small, old hotel in
Honolulu."It's kind of a bowteek hotel," Buddy said. He had won the
place on a bet in the early sixties, when the jets had begun to
replace the cruise ships. The hotel was a relic even then. What
with the rising price of land in Waikiki, we were sure to be bought
as a tear-down and replaced by a big ugly building, one of the
chains. When I considered our certain doom, my memory was
sharpened. I remembered what I saw and heard, every fugitive
detail, and became a man on whom nothing was wasted.
There were residents, and some people who stayed for the winter,
but most of the guests were strangers. By the time they checked
out, I knew them as well as I wanted to, and in some cases I knew
them very well.
"This the winner!" Keola, the janitor, said on my first day,
welcoming me to the hotel. Dees da weena! But there was not much
for me to do. Buddy had been right about the staff's running the
place. Peewee was the chef, Lester Chen my number two. Tran and
Trey were barmen. Tran was a Vietnamese immigrant. Trey, a surfer
from Maui, also had a rock band, called Sub-Dude, formerly known as
Meat Jelly, until all the band members found Jesus."Jesus was the
first surfer, man. He walked on water," Trey told me, more than
once."I surf for Christ." Charlie Wilnice and Ben Fishlow were our
seasonal waiters. Keola and Kawika did the grunt work. I liked them
for being incurious. Sweetie was for a time head of Housekeeping.
She had been raised in the hotel, by her mother, Puamana, another
of Buddy's gambles.
"In a small hotel you see people at their best and at their worst,"
Peewee said."As for this one, we're in the islands, right, but this
is where America stays. And some people come here to die."
We were too cheap for Japan, too expensive for Australia, too far
for Europe, had little to offer the New Zealander, and didn't cater
to backpackers. The business traveler avoided us, except when he
was with a prostitute. Now and then we got Canadians. They were
courteous and tried not to boast. They were budget-conscious.
Another characteristic of frugal people: no jokes, or else bad
jokes. Canadian guests despised us for not knowing their geography,
while at the same time being embarrassed about their huge empty
spaces that had funny place names. In conversation, Canadians were
also the first to point out that they were different, usually by
saying,"Well, I wouldn't know, I'm a Canadian." We had a Mexican
family once. We couldn't be called child-friendly, but Peewee was
correct: America walked through our doors.
People talked. I listened. I observed. I read a little. My guests
were naked. I sometimes trespassed, and it became my life --- the
whole of my life, a new life in which I learned things I had never
"I had plaque cleared from my carotid artery," Clarence Greer
told me. A hotel manager in Hawaii hears lots of medical reports,
as well as weather reports from back home. The Scheesers were from
International Falls, where the temperature that day was
minus-twenty. Jirleen Cofield explained to me the making of a
po-boy sandwich. I got Wanda Privett's recipe for meatloaf, and
other recipes, and learned that many of them, being from middle
America, involved adding a can of soup. It worried me to see a man
wearing a toupee. I trusted people who lisped. Your diabetic needs
to be careful of infections in his feet. I was overprotective of
African Americans, always saw them as having among the oldest
American pedigrees. I tried to understand the sadness of soldiers,
the melancholy of the military. Was it the uniform? Was it the
haircut? I heard so many stories that I abandoned any thought of
writing them; their very number gave me writer's block and made me
patient. Now and then, on the day he was to leave, a guest might
walk the two blocks to the beach and sob in the sunshine.
I liked Hawaii because it was a void. There was no power here apart
from landowning, no society worth the name, just a pecking order.
There was a social ladder but it wasn't climbable, and the higher
on it people stood, the sillier they looked, because everyone knew
their secrets. On such small islands there was hardly any privacy,
because people constantly bumped into each other.
Hawaii is hot and cold volcanoes, clear skies, and open ocean. Like
most Pacific islands it is all edge, no center, very shallow, very
narrow, a set of green bowls turned upside down in the sea, the
lips of the coastline surrounding the bulges of porous mountains.
This crockery is draped in a thickness of green so folded it is
hidden and softened. Above the blazing beaches were the gorgeous
green pleats of the mountains.
The place was once empty and unchanging, as lush as paradise, a
peaceful balance of animals and plants. It was then visited by
humans. At about the time Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales, the
second and largest wave of Polynesians were climbing out of double-
hulled canoes, chanting in relief at having found land. They
claimed it as theirs, but they were no more than castaways. They
imposed a society of kings and commoners. People were eaten. They
venerated the gods of fire and water they had brought with them.
The first iron in Hawaii was stolen from the ships of Captain Cook
--- so many nails yanked out of the timbers that the ships lost
much of their seaworthiness. With the iron the islanders began to
carve more subtly in wood. After the arrival of the first canoes
the islands changed. The voyagers had brought dogs and pigs. The
first whites brought guns and gonorrhea. Everything began at once,
and in that beginning was decay. Now, half the people could not
even swim, and an unspecific paragraph of inaccurate history like
this one was all they knew.
And there was the sun. The sun in Hawaii was so dazzling, so
misleading, yet we regarded sunlight as our fortune. We quietly
believed,"We are blessed because the sun shines every day. This is
a good place for its sunlight. These islands are pure because of
the sun. The sun has made us virtuous."
As the TV weathermen on the mainland took personal responsibility
for the weather, each of us in Hawaii took credit for the sunshine
here, as though we had discovered it and it was ours to
dispense."Stranger, be grateful to me for this sunny day" was our
attitude toward visitors. The sun had been bestowed on us and we
were sharing it with these alien refugees from dark cloudy places.
The sun was our wealth and our goodness. The Hawaiian heresy, which
we thought but never said, was"We are good because of the sun. We
are better than our visitors. We are sunnier."
This conceit made us sloppy and careless. Never mind the palmy
setting, the people here were as cruel and violent and crafty as
people anywhere, but they were slower and so seemed mild. Close up,
the islands were disorderly, fragile, and sensationally littered,
with brittle cliffs and too many feral cats and beaches that were
sucked and splashed by big waves to vanish in the sea. Our secret
was that we hated hot weather and stayed out of the sun. The
visitors ended up with pink noses, peeling shoulders, freckle
clusters, sunstroke, and melanoma, while we kept in the
"They say the Hawaii state motto is Hele I Loko, Haole 'Ino, Aka
Ha'awi Mai Kala --- Go Home, You Mainland Scum, but Leave Your
Money Behind," Buddy said."The real motto is even funnier. Ua Mau
Ke Ea O Ka Aina I Ka Pono --- The Life of the Land Is Perpetuated
in Righteousness. The fuck it is!"
* * *
The week I was hired, Buddy stopped coming to the hotel. I was
glad. Buddy always introduced me by saying,"Hey, he wrote a
I hated that. And I needed to learn the job. He was the wrong
person to teach me. He was usually drunk and had the drunk's
idiocy, mood swings, and facetiousness; he repeated himself; drink
made him deaf.
To please me he tried to be funny, but that could be tedious,
especially the formulaic jokes he told in order to define himself,
or just to shock. I knew all the punch lines. The man at the bar
who says,"I used to think I was a cowboy, but, golly, I guess I'm a
lesbian." Buddy saying, in his terrible Mexican accent,"If God
hadn't meant us to eat it, then why did he make it look like a
taco?" The elephant telling the naked man,"How do you manage to
breathe through a little thing like that?" Or Buddy's croaky
utterance that amounted almost to a war cry:"Nine inches!" A boss's
comedy is always an employee's hardship.
A few days after I started at the hotel, Buddy invited me to his
house to introduce me to his new woman, Stella, whom I had not yet
met. She was from California, she said.
"She's a tool of my lust," Buddy said, and handed me a platter of
brownies."Stella made them. There's weed baked into them."
I took one and nibbled it while Buddy praised them in a wheezy
voice, claiming they'd saved his lungs.
"You ever swim?" I asked.
"Bad current," he said, pronouncing it kernt.
"I'm surprised Buddy didn't make you manager of the hotel," I said
to Stella."You're a great cook and you have the basic
qualification. You're a mainland howlie.""But you also had the
other important qualification," Buddy said, poking me in the
chest."Reason being, you understood me."
I smiled at him, to show I didn't understand.
"That dipshit manager I was telling you about?" he said.
I remembered the aggression, the massage table, the blunders, the
drunkenness, the practical jokes. Larger than life. Three-balled
"That was me!"
He needed me to congratulate him for fooling me, and I did. But I
had guessed it, and people had whispered at the hotel. What
surprised me was that he felt I could do a better job."A man who
doesn't make mistakes ain't doing nothing." But there were more
surprises for me, and they taught me to be watchful. I had asked
for a new life, but I saw that this meant many lives --- wife,
child, the world of these islands, and my
Not long after I nailed the janitor, Keola, as incurious, I saw him
emptying trash barrels into a dumpster in the alley beside the
hotel. Some papers flew out. He stooped and snatched at them with
big blunt fingers, but instead of throwing them away, he looked at
them. He began to read them, holding the flapping sheets to his
face and smiling. That shocked me. He glanced back at me and gave
me what the locals called stink-eye.
Later, when I summoned the courage to ask him why he had read the
discarded papers, he denied it. If he sometimes seemed to be doing
something crazy like reading, he said, it was because he suffered
from"nonselective blackouts." He said he didn't even know what I
was talking about.
"My short-term memory more worse, boss. Get real common in the
islands. Real falustrating."
A week or so later I was in my office and heard, coming from
outside the window, the voices of Keola and Kawika, who were
weeding the flower bed by the swimming pool.
"Eh, where you was yesterday?"
"Eh, was working."
"I call you up talfone."
"I never hear."
"Eh, you never dere already."
"Assa madda you, brah?"
Fascinated, I cocked my head to listen. It was like hearing birds
"Figure us go Makaha. Catch some wave."
"I was lawnmowa da frikken grass. Weed Eater was buss."
"How was buss?"
"Eh, I get no more nothing to do."
"Was frikken choke grass. I just stay sweating. My pants all broke.
Later I wen cuttin da tchrees."
Two birds on a branch, squawking together, squawks I was trying to
remember and understand. A few days later, they were squawking
"Was one udda bugga. Was rob."
"Who da bugga?"
"One howlie guy."
"Who da steala-rubba?"
"Udda howlie guy."
"It da djrugs."
"They in depf."
"Yah. Hey, how he go do it?"
"Hide in one tchree."
"Up the tchree?"
"Back fo the tchree. See a waheeny with one bag. He say, 'That
mines!' He cuckaroach the bag, and the waheeny she ampin like
"They all on djrugs."
"Take da cash. Buy batu."
"Batu. Ice. Pakalolo."
"Pakalolo one soff djrug. Batu is more worse."
Squawk, squawk. I sat at the window, pretending to work.
And another day:
"Eh, but da bugga."
"Da one new bugga."
"Da howlie, yah. He more betta."
"Eh, he look akamai."
"But talk hybolic."
"Yah. But everybody speak him too good."
"The waheeny she frecklish."
"She not Housekeeping. She Guess Services."
"But Tuna, he too much rascal."
"Man, numba-one pilau luna."
"And how come all da time he look us and then he laughing?"
"Bull liar. He job easy."
"Too much hard though my job."
"Stay sucking up beer. Talk story."
"And us stay sweating."
"Man, he got one big book, howlie bugga."
"I never wen see no book."
"In he office."
"Yah. Howlie bugga office. Big book. Hybolical book."
"Eh, no easy fo read, yah."
"Too much easy for howlie."
"Yah. Bymbye, da howlie bugga be rascal."
"Frikken big rascal."
Squawk, squawk. There was more, and all in the dopiest apocopes,
but by then I had realized they were talking about me, and my
History happens to other people. The rest of us just live and die,
watch the news, listen to the guff, and remember the names. No one
remembers us, though sometimes we are brushed by those bigger
events or public figures. My boss, Buddy Hamstra, was a celebrity,
because he knew many of the famous people who had visited Hawaii.
He talked about them as though to prove that these little islands
were part of the world and he was part of history. Babe Ruth had
stayed in this hotel in 1927, before the renovation, when it was
the height of a coconut tree. So had Will Rogers. Buddy had played
golf with another rascal, Francis H. I'i Brown, who was part
Hawaiian. Francis Brown had known Bob Hope. Hope was a regular in
"Zachary Scott --- cowboy actor --- I knew him," Buddy said."He
used to come here a lot."
I said,"His ex-wife ran off with John Steinbeck." But that didn't
impress Buddy, for he had never heard of Steinbeck.
Buddy had found Zachary Scott an island girlfriend."They did the
horizontal hula." He could manage such an introduction in a
friendly, uncomplicated way that took the curse off it and made him
seem a matchmaker rather than a pimp.
A significant request of this sort was made early in 1962 when
Sparky Lemmo asked whether Buddy could find him"an island girl" ---
and the implication was that she would be young and pretty and
willing. Buddy asked for more details. She was needed, Sparky said,
to spend an evening with a visiting dignitary who was staying the
night with his official entourage at the Kahala Hilton. The man's
visit was secret, and he was so powerful he had not landed at
Honolulu Airport but at one of the other airports --- there were
thirteen on the island of Oahu, including the military fields. The
man had been brought to the Kahala in a limo with blacked-out
"Howard Hughes?" Buddy asked.
It was the sort of thing Hughes was doing in those years, with his
flunkies and his millions and his private jet. Sparky gave no
details; a hesitation in his manner, when the name came up,
suggested to Buddy that the man in question might have been Howard
Yet he could have been anyone. Famous people came to Hawaii and
famous people lived here. Doris Duke lived on Black Point, Clare
Boothe Luce on Diamond Head, Lindbergh was in Maui, Jimmy Stewart
had a ranch above Kona, Elvis visited Hawaii all the time. Famous
people had famous friends.
"Bing Crosby?" Buddy asked. Crosby played golf in Hawaii.
Sparky just ignored that. He repeated that the man wanted a local
girl, an island beauty.
"Ha!" Buddy Hamstra was triumphant."So they can't find a wahine at
the Kahala. They have to come to the Hotel Honolulu!"
He was pleased to be in demand, because even then his hotel's
reputation had slipped. The Tahitian dancing on the lanai --- his
Pretty Polynesia show --- only convinced people that Buddy was a
rascal. And he was, which gave him some insight into how weak some
men could be. He would say,"I never had to pay for it" --- one of
those men --- but he was acquainted with the single-minded nature
"Tell me who the guy is," Buddy said.
Sparky indicated by tightening his face that he wanted to tell but
couldn't. He said,"This man is very important. The idea is to find
a girl who won't recognize him."
"Would I recognize him?" Buddy said.
"Listen, this is urgent. And not a hooker. Just someone who's
friendly. A little coconut princess."
There was just such a girl, Puamana Wilson, who hung around the
hotel saying that she was looking for work. Buddy had sized her up
as a runaway and was protective of her. She had been educated in a
convent on the mainland but had run away, and was still hiding from
her family in Hilo. He gave her casual jobs in the kitchen, to keep
her out of the bar and under the protection of Peewee. He put her
up in a back room so he could keep his eye on her. If she stayed
out of trouble, he might marry her when she got a little older. She
was still a girl, twenty or so, immature for her age because of the
convent, freckled, funny, but experienced, as Buddy knew. She was
sweet, not very bright, alluring in the pouty island way, half surf
bunny and half shrew. She was simple and she was willing. But Buddy
said,"I want her back."
Puamana was summoned from the kitchen. Even damp-faced, in her
apron, she looked pretty.
"You're needed across town," Buddy said.
"What I have to do?"
"Just be nice."
She understood this and knew what to do without being told.
While she washed and dressed, Sparky offered Buddy a tip, which
Buddy waved away, offended by the imputation that he was part of
the deal or that it was a commercial arrangement at all. This was
something between friends, he said.
With a flower behind her ear and wearing a pareu, Puamana left for
the Kahala with Sparky Lemmo. Buddy was asleep when she returned.
Later that day he saw her in the kitchen --- in a T-shirt and apron
and rubber sandals once more --- and asked her how it had
"Beautiful room," Puamana said."Was a suite."
How like Puamana to comment on the room and say nothing about the
man or the money. So Buddy asked about him.
"He was stoked."
She said nothing else. And she grew quiet, staying in her room as
though hatching an egg. Six weeks later, Puamana told Buddy she was
pregnant. When the little girl was born, Puamana said,"She's hapa"
--- half islander, half haole. Puamana called her
Ku'uipo,"Sweetheart," and with the birth she became a serious
mother. She stopped flirting, saved her money, and devoted herself
to her daughter, a lovely child who, before she was a year old,
could totter across the hotel lobby and do hula moves without
That same year, President Kennedy was assassinated. Sparky stopped
by the hotel and found Buddy Hamstra drunk and weeping."I fought in
the Pacific with that guy!" It wasn't true.
"He's the one that Pua cheered up at the Kahala Hilton," Sparky
Buddy said,"I don't believe it."
This sort of memory seemed wrong on a day when a nation mourned a
man whose coffin was draped with Old Glory and pulled by six white
horses on a gray caisson.
Buddy said,"Anyway, we'll never know the truth."
A short time after that, Buddy asked Puamana if the man at the
Kahala could have been Sweetie's father.
"I never sleep with no one else that month," she said.
Buddy had watched her closely. The child had made her moralistic.
He said,"You know anything about him?"
"That howlie guy," Puamana said. She smiled as she thought of the
man who had made love to her that night."From the mainland."
"That's all you remember?"
There was a look of reminiscence like a particular memory in her
smile of concentration.
"He had one beautiful bed," she said, and laughed a little."But he
wouldn't do it in the bed. He did it in the bathtub --- warm water,
just him laying there, me on top. And after that, standing up, his
back against the wall."
"You never told me that."
"It was too crazy." She remembered something else."He say he have a
That one detail, the so-called"White House position," everyone knew
about Kennedy, if you knew about Kennedy at all. Though Puamana was
innocent in an island way when she met him, and was an attentive
mother, that one-night stand seemed to corrupt her. When she
drifted into prostitution, Buddy took a greater interest in the
little girl, Sweetie, and for a time she became his hanai daughter
under the loose adoption system of the islands.
Buddy told me this story nearly thirty years later, after I had
fallen in love with Sweetie.
Excerpted from HOTEL HONOLULU © Copyright 2001 by Paul
Theroux. Reprinted with permission from Houghton Mifflin. All
Hotel Honolulu: A Novel