The Black Cat Cafe remains vivid in the author's memory.
Memories of old Honolulu are still sweet
The Hawaii I knew doesn't exist anymore. I remember it as it really was: raw and beautiful, sweet and sour.
My Hawaii was like a thirst I couldn't quench. A potpourri of exotica still playing in my mind, a time that sparkled, like silver confetti catching the morning sun.
The smell, the taste, the look of old Honolulu has all but vanished. The mom-and-pop stores, the old green tenements where I was born, all torn down. The clotheslines zigzagging, waving laundry like flags.
This was 1948. I was 10, and each day was an adventure, a notch of mischief that carved out my life. Trolleys snaked through Honolulu to Kaimuki, with noises of metal on metal, crackling staccato sounds -- pop, pop, crack, crack -- as the trolley turned. Grinding, jerky stops, screeching brakes like chalk on a blackboard, snapping sounds from electric cables, a sound surreal, a sound profound.
Hawaii's people were alive with curiosity, wonder and hope. Always hope, and dreams of plenty. And our music, yes -- Hawaiian, Filipino, Puerto Rican, Chinese, diverse as our skin colors -- it was robust. The beat, the melancholia, were overwhelming. My father's Down Beat Orchestra, with musicians hand-picked from the Philippines, created a sound still loud in my ears, the music so grandiose with the new ideas of the big-band era.
I remember the mist after a cloudburst, the smell of sweet plants and earth, the blinding flashes of rain in bright sunlight.
Honolulu, my Shangri-La.
Barefoot and brazen, I strolled my city. I can still see and smell the streets of Honolulu. The Black Cat Café, YMCA, Smith Street, soldiers and sailors waiting to get into my father's dance hall, called Sampaguita. I remember locals dressed like New York pimps with shiny shoes, tight-bottomed baggy pants and aloha shirts, their hair slicked with pomade. Girls in sexy silk dresses and geishalike hairdos.
Kukui Street, River Street, Aala Park. International Theatre, Princess Theatre, shows for a dime. The old newspaper man with a limp, yelling, "Paypah, paypah. Star-Bulletin paypah, ova hea." The manapua man in his black pajamas carrying sweetbread, dim sum, char siu bao and yelling, "Manapua pepeiao!" And kids would come out with their nickels and dimes, barefoot and eager.
Spit shine for a quarter, 5 cents for a newspaper -- the same for Hershey bars and spearmint gum.
Chinatown and Tin Pan Alley -- metal sounds and the bong-bong of Chinese drums, the squeals of Chinese opera. Nonsensical, enchanting, scary. Magic dragons dancing to the beat of firecrackers and drums, strutting down Fort Street, Market Street and along the river with its black water, black crabs, old tin cans and rubber tires thrown in with blobs of dark things that danced in the currents.
There were the Kress Store, Liberty House, the Alexander Young Hotel, with doormen in white suits and monkey hats. Cops wore brown woolly uniforms on hot summer days, with starfish badges, big black guns and big black shoes.
Honolulu and its port and piers, sailors, merchant seamen and people throwing streamers at luxury ships. Boys in the water, waiting like seals for money to be tossed overboard. And leis tossed behind, promising a return.
Honolulu, my Honolulu, is permanently embedded in my mind, along with the word "aloha," which always sounded like a song, so eloquent that it will linger always. That time might be gone, but never to me.
Never to me.
Okole maluna, Honolulu.
My home, my Shangri-La.
Roland Roy was born and raised in Honolulu. He served as a police officer but left the force to become an artist. He now lives in Newbury Park, Calif.