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May 21, 2008: Kailua

Kimberly’s homecoming day, or rather homegoing day. We decided to spend the entire day, or as much of it as we could, in Kailua, just a few miles north of Honolulu, where the poor girl once was forced to spend three years of her childhood. Kailua, she assured us, has the best beach in the whole dang country, so we intended to take advantage of it.

We stopped at the desk downstairs to pick up boogie boards, beach towels and a beach mat. We are being assessed a daily charge for these items whether we use them or not, so we are going to get our money’s worth today. Most guests, we figure, pick them up and then just walk (or drive if they’re really pampered) to Waikiki, just a few blocks away. It’s probably not every day that beachgoers schlep their boards onto a bus and sit with them propped up in front of them like shields. On the other hand, it’s probably not all that rare, either.

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As usual, we had to change buses at Ala Moana, the shopping center that serves as the major downtown transportation hub. While we were waiting for our next bus, Kimberly decided that she had to have a new hat especially for the beach. So while Zephyr helped a blind man locate a restaurant inside the food court and I waited at the bus stop, she went to nearby Hilo Hattie and purchased a white floppy number that suits her to a T.

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Our second bus deposited us right at the corner of her old homestead, next to a stone wall with the name of the neighborhood on it. She often has told of a childhood incident in which she was attacked by bees lurking in a nook of this wall. She was the innocent bystander; it was the other kids who threw the coconuts. We passed safely today, however.

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Walking up the hill and around the corner, we found ourselves in front of her old house, which has changed quite a bit – mostly for the worse. The current occupants just don’t keep it up as fastidiously as her dad did. (But then few people would!) Gone are the plumeria trees and coconut trees that used to grace the yard. You can understand why someone would get rid of the latter; they get so tall that the tree trimmers refuse to scale to the top (not even the guy from Polynesian Cultural Center) and coconuts falling from that height could be a lethal liability. But what harm could plumeria blossoms possibly do?

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One thing that hasn’t changed is that the next-door neighbors are still there; and they were still there this morning when we astonished them (perhaps shocked is a better word) by appearing at their door. The wife was for many years a member of the state legislature.

After our brief visit with them, we continued on foot toward the beach, taking what ended up being a long way around. A few blocks away from the old home, we passed Maunawili Elementary School, where Kimberly attended a summer camp.

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And she also pointed out something to the rest of us that she’d told us about before, but which we swore must have been a mythical creature that she’d only imagined: “sleeping grass”, a plant which closes up its fronds when you touch it, like a plant from another planet. She wasn’t lying folks, it really does move! Maybe she also was telling the truth about the little three-eared purple gremlin that used to live in her closet.

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After hiking all the way down the hill and into town, we were hot and thirsty and ready to take a break for some refreshment before continuing on to the beach. We happened to stumble upon a large health food store with rather decent prices, which was just perfect since we were in the mood for juice or maybe a smoothie. We settled on a large bottle of kefir, and also bought a couple of things to supplement our lunch. After downing the kefir rather quickly, we were off again.

The health food store did not have bottles of water, however, and our supply in the permanent bottles we always carry with us was running low. So we stopped at the next suitable location to pick up some, which happened to be a cookie shop with the curious name of Chip and Cookie. We paused outside to look at a large poster in the window, featuring a photo of a dashing fellow wearing a flamboyant hat decorated in a watermelon motif, a white outfit and a big smile. He was Wally Amos, the famous cookie magnate, who apparently had some connection to this shop.

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As we stood there, along came a man dispensing free cookie samples. He was wearing a flamboyant hat (it made Kimberly’s new lid literally pale in comparison), a white outfit and a big smile. The same hat, outfit and smile in the photo. It was Wally Amos in the flesh. He was the last person we would have expected to bump into, but that’s just because we didn’t know the facts yet.

Wally Amos was the founder of the Famous Amos cookie company, but he no longer has any connection to that brand name; in fact he shuns it. After some poor business decisions, the brand changed hands a few times, and the recipe changed along with management. The result is a Famous Amos cookie that Mr. Amos claims bears little resemblance to his original brainchild.

In any event, Mr. Amos has bounded back from business disaster and is now a cookie guru once again. He lives right here in Kailua, and seems to be a regular presence at his colorful little bakery. Furthermore, he is branching out, opening another store in the Ala Moana Center, where it’s certain to attract the attention of gazillions of bus passengers. He’s also a paragon of positive thinking, and has even published books on that topic.

But there’s something even more fascinating that we didn’t know about him. He’s become a major champion of reading to children – not just reading by children, mind you, but reading to children. In fact, in addition to the quasi-lifesize poster of the man himself, what caught our eye about the storefront was a smaller poster advertising the proprietor’s weekly sessions reading to children right here in ye olde cookie emporium, in a cozy little nook set up just for that purpose. We were very pleased to learn about this passion of his, and to be able to meet such a dynamo of enthusiasm and achievement. He provided us with information about his work with his Read It Loud Foundation, and we in turn told him all about our educational theatre company, which he also took an interest in. Before we left, we asked if he’d pose for a photo with us, and he replied, “sure, if you’ll take a cookie.” Such a deal.

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A few blocks farther, we finally found ourselves at the beach, and a beach in Hawaii is an excellent place to find yourself. First we had lunch in a shady spot on the other side of a berm just a few yards from water’s edge. Kimberly, who was not quite as hungry as the males, finished eating first, and after changing into her beachwear in the restrooms about 100 yards away, headed on over to stake out her spot in the sand. Soon I followed (bathing) suit, and about 5 minutes later, Zephyr did likewise. I mention this sequence of events because it turned out to be potentially quite significant, and we’d be replaying it in our minds very carefully before the day was over.

The surf was particularly weak today, so weak that it was an insult to our boogie boards. Kimberly swears it was never this wimpy before. In any event, the water was blissful, even if it was too blissfully calm for our purposes, the sand was like powdered sugar, and the scenery was out of this world. We commented on how this place really was paradise, and Kimberly noted that she hadn’t realized how much she missed it. Unfortunately, we were then just moments away from discovering that this paradise had at least one serpent lurking in it.

Although Kimberly is the strongest swimmer in the family, she rarely ventures into the water. But today, being back in her old splashing grounds, she couldn’t let the day pass without taking the plunge, even if the surf was flat-lining. After lounging on the beach for a couple of hours, she was ready.

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It’s such a rare event to see her swimming that I thought he should document it photographically. So I went to get the camera, and… let’s see, where was it? I called out to her and asked where it was, and she said it should be in her bag.

But it wasn’t.

Nor was it in anyone else’s bag.

The camera, in fact, was nowhere.

We knew we’d had it with us earlier when we were eating lunch. Kimberly had handed it to Zephyr, who’d then covered it with his boogie board before going to the changing room. After he’d changed, he’d brought all the gear still left at our lunch stakeout over to where Kimberly and I were ensconced on the beach. Had we all walked away, taking all of our other stuff with us, but somehow overlooked a very conspicuous object? It seemed inconceivable, but nonetheless, we walked back over to that area and searched every inch, without success.

We inquired with the lifeguard, thinking maybe someone had found it and turned it in. But no such luck.

As we thought back on it, we realized that we’d left some of our belongings, including the camera, unattended for perhaps five minutes while Zephyr went to change. It had been covered up, but even so it was theoretically possible, however improbable, that someone had poked around, discovered it and snatched it during that time. We were reluctant to draw such a conclusion, but we didn’t know how else to explain what happened.

Whatever the explanation, it really steamrolled our spirits. Not only did we face the prospect of buying a new camera immediately or else losing out on photo opportunities for the remainder of our trip, but even worse, we’d lost the pictures we’d already taken. And the ones we’d taken were of particular sentimental value to Kimberly. Her old house, her old neighborhood, the neighbors, the bee wall, all gone. Not to mention our pose with Wally Amos.

While Kimberly and Zephyr were changing back into their street clothes, I was making a final “Hail Mary” effort by walking through the parking lot and asking everyone I met if by chance they’d glimpsed a wayward camera scurrying around. Of course they all said no, but two young men who spoke with what appeared to be a German accent did offer a slightly promising lead.

“When I was in the water”, said one of them, “I saw a woman trying to take my sunglasses. I wouldn’t be surprised if she has your camera.”

He described her as a gray-haired woman dressed in gray and carrying a gray plastic bag. Scouring the beach, I did find a woman matching that description, stuffing shells into her bag. I told her that we were missing a camera, and didn’t have a lot of money to replace it; and that it contained some pictures that were very important to us. I asked her to keep an eye out for it, and turn it in to the lifeguard if she found it, and even offered a reward. She promised that she would.

After making sure the lifeguard had our phone number, we started trudging back toward the bus stop, much more somber than we were on the way down. Kimberly, in particular, was heartsick.

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We detoured a couple of blocks to see her old school, St. Anthony’s, but without an actual camera, she had to settle for taking a shot with the phone. [This was in that ancient era of a decade past when phones did not have very good cameras on them.] A bake sale apparently was in progress, but nothing else was going on. Peering through the large windows in front, we could see that the chapel was undergoing some severe renovation, and in fact was closed off because of the threat of some kind of toxic substances.

Continuing toward the heart of town, we came to the police station, and decided we should drop in and file a report, since we were certain a theft had occurred. We were surprised to see that the sign on the station said “Honolulu Police” rather than “Kailua Police”. Local government is structured a little differently in Hawaii, with all offices administered by four counties. As far as the police are concerned, the entire island of Oahu is considered part of Honolulu!

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As the bored prisoner in the cell on the other side of the reception desk looked on in mild interest, we told our story to the officer on duty, who gave us the appropriate form to fill out. Although he wasn’t at all optimistic about our chances, he conscientiously and courteously went through the process, and handed us a report for our records.

Proceeding a little farther into town, we stopped again at Chip and Cookie. That’s because we also were missing Kimberly’s sunglasses, but we knew exactly where they were: she’d recalled taking them off and putting them down to pose with Mr. Amos.

About the time we started to head home, our phone rang. It was a lifeguard. He had our camera! Naturally, we were overjoyed at this news, but then things really started to get strange.

We asked him if one of us should walk back down to the beach to get it, and he said no, he’d already left and was on his way to pick up his son in another town a few miles away. This in itself struck us as quite irregular. Surely there must have been a place near the lifeguard station that it could have been stashed safely until claimed. Instead, he took it home with him, without even trying to contact us first. So we asked him how we could arrange to recover it — we certainly were willing to go out of our way to make it convenient for him, even though he hadn’t made it terribly convenient for us. We even could have returned tomorrow, or perhaps have arranged for Kimberly’s former neighbors to get it for us. But he said he’d drop it by himself as soon as he had his son. Oh yes, and one more thing. He wanted a reward.

Now we’d certainly been prepared to offer, say, 20 dollars to anyone who returned it to us, and especially if driving was involved, given the price of gas these days. Mind you, we ourselves would never accept such a payment just for doing the right thing (in fact, we’ve declined rewards in several such situations), but making the offer still seems a reasonable gesture of gratitude. But to have someone demand a fee upfront seemed supremely tasteless, especially for a representative of the local government. Nonetheless, we were so thrilled by the prospect of getting our pictures back that we just told him we’d discuss it when he arrived.

A few minutes later, he called back to be more specific: he wanted FIFTY DOLLARS — a sum, he explained, that would enable him to take his girlfriend to dinner. We told him that we weren’t rich and repeated our suggestion that we talk it over upon delivery.

In about half an hour, he walked up carrying his son, who was about three years old. He looked very young himself, too young to be a parent, and judging by our conversation with him, he was certainly too immature. We shudder to think what kind of example he was setting for his child today. As he approached, he smiled and waved as if greeting an old friend; but we’re afraid we returned his greeting with icy glares. Zephyr and I, both wearing dark glasses, stood with arms crossed, sizing him up like a pair of mafia hit men.

After he’d produced the camera from his pouch, Kimberly told him, “You know, we’re perfectly willing to offer you something for your trouble, but we don’t think it’s cool to hold our camera for ransom.”

“I wasn’t holding it for ransom”, he innocently protested.

“That’s certainly the way it looks”, she told him.

I stuffed a twenty into his hand and said curtly, “Thank you for bringing it back to us.”

He looked at the money and asked, “Is that all?”

“How much is your honesty worth?” I asked.

“I think it should be worth more than that”, he answered.

At that point, I held up the slip of paper from the police department and asked, “Do you know what this is?”

“No”, he said. “What is it?”

“It’s a police report we filed about a stolen camera. Maybe I should walk back to the station and tell them I think I know who the thief might be.”

“No no”, he said, “I didn’t steal anything, honest. Someone just turned it in to me.”

“Under the circumstances”, I told him, “they’d probably consider you a suspect, and they’d certainly want to talk to you.”

This seemed to give him pause, as he stopped whining about not being paid more for his good deed, and tried to be cheery and cordial.

“You’re lucky to get it back”, he pointed out.

“We know”, I responded. “And you’ll be lucky if you still have a job tomorrow.”

In the end, though, we elected not to report his conduct, even though it was a decision that we don’t entirely have a clear conscience about. But at least he did take the trouble to return it rather than just keep it; and once we’d met him, it was clear that his behavior was motivated by naivete (which, admittedly, is a euphemism for cluelessness) rather than malice or greed, and it was hard to condemn him more than pity him.

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When we’d returned to our room and had dinner, K and I decided to take an evening stroll on Waikiki Beach, while Zephyr was content to stay behind and occupy himself with the holy trinity of computer, television and telephone. It was a fantastic night for a beach stroll, with just enough breeze to keep us cool, and the approximately full moon gilding the waves with gold. We had the beach pretty much to ourselves, not counting the diners in the many outdoor restaurants. We walked, we waded, we capered and danced, and generally acted like a pair of teenagers on a class trip. In no time, the stench of the day’s bad experience was entirely washed away.

You’d have to work at it really hard to maintain a bad mood for very long in a place like this.