I stood in line at the Park theater on a Saturday afternoon. I was there with my posse, neighborhood boys from Atherton like me. On the weekends our parents would give us each fifty cents and send us to the movies on our bikes. For that fifty cents I got a ticket to the movie, a bag of popcorn, a Sugar Daddy and a Look bar. On this particular day we got to see a science fiction serial –a Flash Gordon-ish short that was beyond bad, but as kids we ate it up even if you could see the zippers on the monster suits. The feature film was ”Elroy ‘Crazy Legs’ Hirsch,” the life story of the Los Angeles Rams player who is tied for 76th in all time touchdown runs. Elroy Leon Hirsch was noted for the way his legs flailed as he ran. It was a daunting sight to those who tried to close in for a tackle, as appealing as a head first dive into a food processor’s whirling blades. Hirsch was one of those stars who was indeed a role model with none of the staining backstories so common to modern NFL players.
It was December, 1957. I went home and talked about how cool this guy was, so neato they made a movie about him. My news was upstaged by my parents who announced that we were going to Hawaii for Christmas and New Years. I was still excited about Crazy Legs, but I was thrilled with the idea of going to Hawaii. We flew there on a Pan Am Clipper, a double deckered aircraft that had Pullman-like bunk beds; a good thing for parents with kids on the eleven hour flight. While I groan at the ide of more than three hours crammed into an airplane, for a ten year old the trip was absolute bliss. The stewardesses were always giving us toy airplanes, Pan Am stickers, Junior Pilot wings, ankle high slipper socks and pillows the size of a geography book, a failed attempt at encouraging us little ones to take a nap.
We arrived at Honolulu International Airport just before dawn and took a cab to the hotel. We stayed at the Halekulani in a little housekeeping cottage just step from Waikiki Beach. My parents and sister, exhausted from the trip all collapsed onto their beds. I, who had passed out after confinement to one of the airplane’s bunk beds, was wide awake. I nudged my mother ans asked her if I could go explore. She replied “mmmsnffp” which I took to be approval.
The sun was just up as I walked out on the beach. Already some people had staked a claim to real estate, setting up beach umbrellas and spreading towels and blankets. Some had folding patio chairs. I looked in amazement seeing that people were walking waist deep in the water. It wasn’t that people could walk in waist high water, it was that they were hundreds of feet from the shore where the water HAD to be a million feet deep. That was the OCEAN! I waded into the water wearing my bleeding madras Bermuda shorts and a tropical shirt with pelicans on it. As I moved towards a man I’d singled out to ask what he was doing, I worried that I might not be a strong enough swimmer to reach the sand bar I just knew he must be standing on. I walked and walked and the water rose above my knees, my waist, and then my belly button. It finally came up to my chest –but got no deeper. In fact, by the time I reached tha man strolling about out there, the water was actually a little lower on my chest.
“What are you doing out here?” I asked the man. He replied that he was hunting for octopus. I was horrified and began to look around at the water.
“Don’t worry, none of them are very big. Wanna see one?” I said I did and he reached into a bag he had strapped over his shoulder and pulled out a gooky writhing mass. “Don’t drop it now.” he told me. I took the slimy thing from him and it immediately wrapped itself around my wrist. I was frightened at first, but then I realized that it didn’t hurt and it was kind of cool looking. I pulled a tentacle loose and giggled with glee at the pink circles the octopuses’ suckers left on my wrist and arm. I held my hand out to him and he plucked the thing from my arm and dropped it back in his bag. I asked him how he found them. He explained that he just shuffled his feet as he walked and the little octopus would grab him if he shuffled into one. I started chugging around choo-choo style and suddenly felt something grab my ankle. I ducked my head into the water and reached down and pulled a reluctant little guy from my leg. I walked over and handed it to the man. He took it and thanked me, but suggested that while I had lucked out, I was probably scaring more away and maybe I’d like to go back to the beach. I shrugged and started back towards shore. After a few steps I stopped and turned.
“What are you going to do with those octopuses?” I asked. His reply was a single word. Bait.
I waded back to shore. As I was coming out of the water a man came running by at the tide line. He was playing catch with a football and something in the back of my head signaled familiarity. “Holy cow!” I shouted. “You’re Crazy Legs Hirsch!” The man stopped and walked back to me.
“That’s right, son. Thanks for recognizing me. I guess you’re a Rams fan, huh?” I nodded in a state of shock. Actually, I wasn’t a Rams fan, I was a fan of famous people and this guy had a movie made about him that he starred in himself. No other people I ever heard of starred in their own life story movies. He chatted with me a little while and then had me play catch with him for a few throws before he said he had to get going. I asked if I could have his autograph and he was willing, but no one around had a pen. He asked me where I was staying and I told him. He shook my hand again and said maybe he’d see me around. I stood and watched him as he walked off down the beach.
I realized that it was almost 9 am. I’d managed to be gone for almost four hours from the Hallekulani cottage. I jogged back and stepped in the door. “Well, there you are!” said my mother.
“Where have you been?” my father asked sternly. I explained that I’d been wading, that I caught an octopus and played catch with Crazy Legs Hirsh. My father grabbed my arm and yanked me over to his bed and pulled me over his knee. Whap! Whap! Whap! The spanking hurt, but not as much as my outrage.
“I’m not fibbing!” I declared and ran into the bathroom and slammed the door. My father stomped to the door and demanded I open it immediately. Of course I did.
“You’re only making this worse on yourself. You made up a story and now you’re insisting it’s true. That’s TWO lies young man!”
Knock. Knock. Someone was at the door. My mother went and opened it. “Yes?” she said. I heard some muffled voices and my mother said “Oh my” and stepped back. Crazy Legs Hirsch stepped into our cabin, saw me and walked over. He handed me a football with his signature on it.
“Told you I’d see you around, Sport.!” He smiled at me and said it was great playing catch with a fan, then said he had to be going. The door closed behind him. My mom burst into tears.
“But. I. But.” He looked at me. “I’m so sorry. I thought you made that story up. You really caught an octopus?”