Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Friday, May 14, 1999

to the job

THIS week marks 19 years of me working for this newspaper, which is about 17 years longer than I planned.

When you grow up in a military family, you live your life in two-year chunks. Time becomes geography. I spent pre-school in Florida, kindergarten in Africa, elementary school in Georgia and Nebraska, junior high in Alabama and high school in Hawaii. Always the stranger. Always getting in touch with my global haole-ness. My inner outsider.

Hawaii was the first place we stayed for more than a couple years. We stayed for four. Then we went to Oregon, where we stayed for another four. By then, I was in charge of establishing my own time chunks, so I managed to spend only one year in West Virginia. I worked at a little newspaper called the Wheeling Intelligencer, which turned out to be something of a nonsequitur. Not that there weren't any intelligentsia at the Intelligencer, or in Wheeling, for that matter. It's just that that area of the country is not a nationally recognized habitat for intelligent people. I was there, for instance.

Then I was off to Guam and reverted back to the two-year time chunk. Not on purpose. But I found out that when you don't have the military industrial complex making all your travel plans, it's kind of hard to figure out exactly where you are going and, more importantly, how long you will be there.

I came back to Hawaii in 1980 to work at this newspaper. Never in my wildest dreams -- and the Guam heat can bring on some snoozing doozies -- did I think I'd spend 19 years in one place. I mean 19 years in ONE building. I have a picture of me about 50 pounds and 18 years ago sitting at a desk in the news building. I realize I currently sit only about 7 feet from where that old photo was taken. That's a lot of years to be basically shuffling around in the same general vicinity. If a judge had sentenced me to to occupy one building for 19 years, I would have tried to escape.

The thing is, when you go to work, it never occurs to you that you might be living with the same group of people for the next couple of decades. The boss doesn't stand you in front of the staff and say, "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to join this big lug and all of you in the bonds of indefinite employment ..."

It's like you are suddenly married to a bunch of people whom you know nothing about. You are going to see these people day in and day out, spend more time with them, in fact, than with your wife or husband, but with none of the fun parts. And after a while, say, 10 or 15 years, some of these people you will love, some you will hate and some you will be indifferent to, but you still will be stuck with all of them. And they with you.

And then, after a longer while, you are sitting there talking to someone in the "Human Resources Department" and they congratulate you for being a loyal "human resource" for the past 19 years. Nineteen years? There must be some mistake. I wasn't supposed to be here for 19 years. What happened to my travel orders, sergeant? Didn't they come through? Fuel up the transports! We fly at dawn!

They push you out of the "Human Resources Department" babbling to yourself and saluting total strangers.

Such is the plight of the military brat, even fully grown ones: No matter how long you live in one place, you feel you should be somewhere else.

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802

or send E-mail to or

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