The Shell Soup
One shell is for each person.
Put it in the soup bowl and pour hot water over.
Then after a little while the shell will open bobling for your eating.
Dried seaweed, dried shrimps, dried tangle, sweet rice cake, wheat cakes, monosodium glutamate.
But the wonders of the Hawaiian world are only a passing fascination to one who is 7 years old. "It's kinda boring," Andy said on the second day, kicking the dirt with a dirty blue sneaker. He missed Steve, his pal back home. So Andy and I walked the plumeria-perfumed streets of Kahala until we found Scotty, who was 6�, and then I walked back home alone and lay for a long time under the breadfruit tree.
Scotty came often after that. Like most Hawaiian kids, he disdained shoes. Andy quit wearing them the day he met Scotty. The two of them would munch tuna sandwiches smeared with yellow mustard, their feet dangling in the pool.
The merest ripple of water in a backyard pool in Hawaii reacts on pool-less neighbor children like unveiling an unmarried prince in front of a Gabor. The first splash in our tank would send Rocky, an older boy who lived next door, scampering into the branches of a tree that grew in his yard and overlooked ours. There he would sit, mopping the perspiration of the August afternoon from his brow, looking at the kids cooling themselves in our pool. "Now, you have to be hardhearted about this problem," my landlord had briefed me, "or you'll be playing lifeguard to all the brats in the neighborhood." I could stand Rocky's forlorn look just so long, perhaps eight minutes, and then he was invited into the pool, too. By the time he was in his suit and ringing our front doorbell his place in the tree had been taken by his sister, who is called Jolly. By the time Jolly got invited there was a new face in the tree. It belonged to Jumpy, to whom Jolly, standing on the diving board, was giving the scram signal with her hand behind her back. "Don't pay any attention to her," said Jolly, speaking of her small sister. But shortly the front doorbell rang, and there stood Jumpy in her bathing suit and carrying a towel. She looked up at me from her height of three feet and said, "Is my sister here?" I recalled my landlord's briefing and took a deep breath to answer, but by that time she had fled around my feet and was in the pool, too. The door was scarcely shut before there came a scratching on it and there was Sebastian, the cocker spaniel belonging to Rocky, Jolly and Jumpy.
I never saw anyone deliver milk, but they did ring our bell selling guava juice—a bright lavender belly wash that comes in waxed containers just like milk and is highly favored by Hawaiian kids. The mailman comes in the forenoon, just in time to spoil the rest of the day, arriving on a motorcycle, carrying the special deliveries dispatched from the office in New York. I was standing out front anxiously waiting for him the first couple of days, but by the end of the second week the notices from New York lay moldering unwanted in the mailbox until the sun had fled and the nightly show had started mauka on Wilhelmina Rise.
The most fearsome of the morning visitors was the Japanese I found on our lawn one day, head wrapped in a bandana, trousers rolled up, wearing an angry scowl and flashing an enormous machete. He looked like a diehard Imperial soldier who had just been flushed from a cave on Guam, but he was, in fact, the gardener hired by my landlord and payable, during my tenure, by me. Although he dropped his machete at my approach, his expression remained unflinchingly fierce. "I have contract fix garden every week," he said. "Fine," I said, the word coming from a head I had expected by this time to be rolling under the plumeria. "Before you go, would you mind gathering up those petals in the rock garden along the entranceway?" "Not in contract," he said and strode off. That night I had a call from the landlord in which he patiently asked me, as one explains to a 6-year-old why it isn't sporting to put a girl's pigtails in the inkwell, not to have any more conversations with the gardener. "Orientals can be quite strange by our standards," he said. "You have to be very careful what you say. They are very proud. And even at $1.50 an hour they are very hard to get. I had to talk the fellow out of quitting. He'll be all right now, but maybe it would be better if you would let me talk to him and I will pay him. You pay me back."
This Kamikaze of the cabbage patch was for us only the beginning of a touch-and-go relationship with the domestic hired help of Hawaii. Fifty dollars a week for a maid-of-all-work is the going price, and even at that a classified ad inserted in a local Waikiki beach paper produced a scarce, if variegated, crop. A bottled blonde of many summers, ablaze with rhinestone bracelets, a young Spanish girl expecting her eighth child within three weeks, and an ancient Japanese granddame, too tired to cook or clean house, briefly graced our house.
Two weeks passed, and then Nora Kawamura phoned. I have forgotten who told her we needed help. "I'm your new maid," she said cheerfully. "Just back from Europe. I be there 5 o'clock." Nora was a jewel. She embroidered the pineapple for breakfast. She toured the Oriental shelves of the supermarkets with me, brewed saimin, served salads of lotus root rubbed with ginger. When cocktail guests were due she would ask "What you want I make for pupu?" In Hawaiian, pupus are little shells or beads, but in recherch� island circles the word is used for canap�s, and one packager of cocktail-sized frankfurters puts them out under the label of Pu Pu Pups.
With Nora in command of the villa in Kahala, we accepted invitations around the island. We drove up to Aina Haina, which means "tell of the land," and had dinner with friends by the side of their white-and-turquoise pool while fishermen worked offshore with kerosene lanterns, gliding softly by like tranquilized fireflies. One night when a brief half moon was making cutouts of the clouds and laying them against a midnight-blue sky, we rode over the Pali to a dinner party on the Windward Side. The car radio, tuned to the Japanese language station, twanged nasally with the music of Nippon. With the hulking black silhouettes of the Koolau Range rising on all sides, the strange music filling the air and the moon playing in the clouds, we felt we were riding on the far side of Saturn. Then we came down to the flat-lands of Kaneohe, and the announcer came on spewing a Japanese commercial on the glories of owning a Pontiac. The words were all Japanese but the numbers were in English. "Everybody talk pidgin, so we like to hear numbers in English," was Nora's rather laconic explanation the next morning.