And some days give you everything.
I awoke early to play a pitch in downtown Honolulu before continuing onwards to my new host on the North Shore. My host in Mililani, Edward, had recommended I try playing on the Fort Street Mall right in the center of the CBD, and when I’d come through to check it out a few days ago it looked promising. I asked the security guards whether I might play and they said I’d have to play around the corner, on Hotel St., a road with heavy bus traffic. I gave it a go by the side of a McDonald’s. On a random note, McDonald’s are landmarks for bus stops in O’ahu. Very amusing. And sad.
Most of the passersby treated me well, with a mother tipping me almost immediately by way of her daughter and a young woman stopping her friends a moment to request Time in a Bottle and then Here Comes the Sun on discovering I didn’t know that first request. Today I debuted my laminated song list, and I was glad to put it to such quick use. But while Hawai’i staunchly protects first ammendment rights, most of its buskable land is privately owned. So just like Kalakaua I wasn’t allowed to play on Fort Street and a few songs after the request the owner of the McDonald’s came out very sternly, with a look of disgust and impatience and shooed me off.
So I asked the girl manning the Yogen Fruz shop if I might play in front and she delightedly agreed. While inside I heard the not quiet enough comment from one of an older businessman patron to his lunch date that “He didn’t make any money”, gesturing to me not quite subtly enough in a schadenfreude haha tough luck get a real job way. They proceeded to talk a bit quieter about that. I felt furious but kept myself in check, setting up outside and promising myself I’d bring it up with him when he emerged. I cooled down enough by then that I didn’t do that, either. I played a few songs there but the businessman remained as uptight as anywhere and my being on the ouskirts of Chinatown didn’t help either. One man very purposefully jangled the coins in his pocket right in front of my case before walking on a way and making a big show of “listening and searching for money” before going on. He did the same on the way back. I wasn’t taken in for a moment so this didn’t bother me too much, beyond the ugly taste it left in my mouth. Only just before I finished did my one tip here come, from an older man who crossed the street just to tip. Very kind.
On the bus up to Hale’iwa a sat beside a slow witted braggart who nicely ceded the seat, but did so mostly to show off. I remained humble throughout without mentioning my own doings or playings. Let me illustrate:
“What kinda guitar is that?”
“Classical.” (Why do people give a shit? like they measure my worth by the brand.)
“Yea, I mean what kind.”
“It’s a Raven.” (I don’t even know any brand names.)
“Never heard of it.”
“Do you play.”
“Yea. I’ve got a bunch of guitars, is that your only one?”
“Yea, found it in my attic.”
“How long you been playing?”
“About eight years off an on. And you.”
“Fifteen.” Haughty, haha more than you.
Some more banter during which he reveals he’s trained as chef, doesn’t have a job right now but has “Cordon Bleu” honor honor honor and could totally get one but people don’t see how good he is.
“Did you grow up on the island.”
“Yea, North Shore. I’ve been all over though.”
“Were you in the military? Is that how you’ve traveled so much?”
“I hate the military.”
“Where about have you been?”
“All over. You wouldn’t know.”
“Oh, I just wondered what places.”
“Mexico. Canada. France. Holland. Germany. Spain. And Italy.” (and here I laugh a little inside) “You been any of those?”
“Yea I’ve been to France before.”
“How many times?”
“I’ve been five times to Paris. Six times to Europe.”
And so on. When I got off in Hale’iwa after an hour and a half of this I felt much lighter. Only to meet up with my host Tom, who engaged me in an hour long monologue about his eBay trades in which I had absolutely no interest.
I wandered through Hale’iwa looking for cafes and bars where I might get a gig, but each one needed much greater notice than the week I had remaining. Well most had no live music at all. I saw a random colorful sign advertising “Music Box…” other thinigs I can’t remember and I had to enter. I was welcomed in along the ramp by some young boys and girls and taken aback, to discover I’d stumbled into the Ron Artis (Art…Is) family band studio space. The mother very helpfully recommended me some places to play and after a few moments chatting some people dropped in and the children set up to play a “Rainbow Show” of all styles, incredibly impressive and joyous and musical – great voices, dance steps, piano, drum, harmonica, guitar, bongo, synth talents working in beautiful concert from four boys ages 8 to 24 and two girls in their early teens. What a range of sounds they displayed, and what mature musicality. Their father recently passed, yet they carried on, gentle and warm and filled with Christian goodwill telling me “Talent is like water, my dad used to say. God filled you with it and you can pour it into the guitar or the violin or art – it’s the same thing.” Oh how inspiring, how inspiring the memory of their father truly alive in the music and their love.
So I walked down to the places they mentioned and called the others later that night – most with no luck. But one place, one place would yield the highlight of my time on the island, the most amazing people I’ve met in America. Hawai’i’s now easily my favorite state, and I think of the many places I’ve gone on of the few I could see myself settling in. The Artis family’s advice led me to Universe Juice, newly opened six days prior by a very young married couple with the most darling kids.
Makani, the mother, tended the shop as I arrived. A houseless man, John, helped her wash dishes for some food, and right after she finished with her customer she bid me play her an original song. She sat right before me in a director’s chair, meeting my eyes the entire time I perfomed Stamsund, tears leaking out midway and flowing freely by the end. And so we spoke of music and life and the meaning of names and synesthesia and belief and food and race and Hawai’i; I sang my songs in the incredible acoustic of her narrow, high vaulted store until I ran out of them. Her investor Kevin stopped in to bring a guitar for the shop and dug my music, drummed along on a strange lute-like instrument he’d found at a thrift shop, requested Falling Slowly and told me I nailed it. Requested Hallelujah before he left, tipped me in my case which just happened to be open.
And while I sang Falling Slowly this second time for him a young man who’d been eating ice cream in the alcove outside her side window popped in to drop a dollar with a smile. The few people walking by at that late hour slowed and stopped and clapped and smiled. Makani’s friend Nathan and his chums dropped by and they talked or listened right at the doorway – relaxed with faces aglow in the deepening twilight perfect Hawai’ian air. Makani made me a delicious acai parfait/smoothie type thing and dropped me a tip, too, regretting the shop had no money as yet to pay me – not that I minded in the slightest. She gave me a ride back to Tom’s place and a box full of local organic fruits and veggies soon to go bad.
Makani told me the Hawai’ian people were tasked with remembering. Remembering how the world should be after it’s forgotten and gone awry. I can believe her, and I hope I can help others remember, in my own small way.
Earnings: $13.50, ~3.5 hours
Song of the Day: Falling Slowly – Soundtrack of Once