CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Star-Bulletin columnist Charles Memminger has always been able to see the lighter side of island life. His new book is a collection of his work and celebrates 15 years of writing the triweekly "Honolulu Lite."
Laughter in paradise
Columnist’s love for Hawaii shines through in minutiae
When Charles Memminger picks up garden tools, especially power tools -- operates any machinery, really -- scary things happen. "It's almost like living inside a Stephen King movie," he admits in his new book, "Hey, Waiter, There's an Umbrella in My Drink!"
"Hey, Waiter, There's an Umbrella in My Drink!"
By Charles Memminger
Book launch party
Introducing the new tropical drink, "The Charley!"
Meet the author: 4:30 to 6 p.m. Oct. 18
Place: Duke's Waikiki
Benefit sales: A portion of book and drink sales will go to the Hawaiian Humane Society
The book is on sale in Honolulu bookstores and online at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com
Worst-case scenario? "Perhaps my electric chain saw will turn on in the middle of the night and begin to do battle with my weed-eater or clothes dryer."
Take his Cuisinart, for instance. "Toasters with French names apparently think they are too special to actually make toast," he observes. But Memminger is not one to retreat; he tackles problems head on. With diligence and care, he disassembles the offending appliance and -- voilà! -- problem solved: "The Cuisinart doesn't look so smug anymore, scattered over the counter like a downed aircraft."
Or take one of his foliage-fighting devices, the electric circular saw. "When you've got an electric circular saw designed to cut lumber and you use it to cut the trunk of a fairly large bush in your yard, pay attention to where the electric cord is," Memminger advises. "The cord could be hidden in the branches, and when you cut through the cord, you can get quite an electric shock, just before the saw goes dead. Trust me on this."
The book fairly brims with important tips of that nature.
In fact, what Memminger has assembled here is no less than a pre-apocalyptic survival guide, an ardent appeal for common sense in an era of rising angst. Time and again, Memminger delivers life- and sanity-saving wisdom culled from shadowy worlds populated by phlegmy bus riders, deadly stinging sea wasps, poisonous ants, drunken worms and other apparitions.
Full disclosure: I have known Memminger for more than 25 years and am familiar with his interest in the offbeat. But not until I pored through his compendium of "Honolulu Lite" columns did I fully fathom his depth of knowledge of the obscure and chillingly arcane.
His perspective cannot simply be attributed to childhood trauma, such as free-falling without a bungee in Morocco or jumping from a swiftly accelerating milk truck in Georgia.
No, Memminger clearly has more than old brain lesions going for him when he offers this kind of insight:
» On nuptial bliss: "From the husband's point of view, the secret of a long, happy marriage, or at least a long one, is to watch the movie 'Fatal Attraction' at least once a year."
» On huge cockroaches: "It's best just to shoot these things with guns." A .45-caliber pistol works best, but air rifles can turn pest control into sport, he suggests.
» On chain-saw etiquette: "When using even a small chain saw, it is important not to hold it in one hand and slash through branches as if you are brandishing a machete. Once I nicked the palm of my free hand with the saw, just enough to cut a shallow furrow where the lifeline had been. ... I had come within centimeters of having to learn how to write columns using only letters on the right side of the keyboard."
Memminger is not just an able-bodied writer, he is disciplined. For example, he dismisses haiku poems as "crummy little collections of words that couldn't make the limericks team."
Holding my breath, I counted syllables. Many writers would have tried for irony: Crummy little col-/lections of words that bombed on/the limericks team. But not Memminger. His put-down of haikus comes so close to being a haiku that we know he studiously avoided it. That's discipline.
"What I was looking to include were columns that would have a long shelf life and touch on the quirkiness of living in Hawaii and also the aloha," said Memminger, twice honored by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, in an interview Saturday.
"Hopefully, local people will buy the book quickly -- before Christmas -- and then I'll be at the mercy of the tourists who can say, 'Hey, this is what Hawaii is like from someone who lives there.'"
As fans of his column know, Memminger embraces the sublime, the ridiculous and everything in between, and the full range is present in this collection. His salutes to World War II reporter Ernie Pyle, age-of-sail novelist Patrick O'Brian and gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson are as appealing as his arguments for buried utility lines and -- gasp -- high taxes: "Hawaii is like a high-maintenance girlfriend (or cross-dressing boyfriend). States like West Virginia, New Jersey and Mississippi can plod around without makeup in pajamas and hair curlers. Hawaii has to look gorgeous in the morning."
Whether he is discussing recalcitrant cars and computers, invasive species, drug-sniffing dogs, government regulations, blood donations or body hair, Memminger's affection for the islands shines through.
His book belongs with your Spam, rice, machete and roach-ready firearms.