When we arrived in Honolulu on the Pan Am Clipper it was four o’clock in the morning. I’d been asleep in one of the Pullman like compartments, but my mother woke me to tell me we’d arrived. It was just before Christmas in 1957. My father booked us a cabin at the Halekulani hotel, right on Waikiki. By five thrity a.m. all of us were in our beds at the hotel and sawing logs. I only slept for an hour, having slept a full night on the plane as we made our way from San Francisco. It would be two more years before Hawaii became a state, a factor that meant little to me although it excited my dad. He figured we owned it anyway, what with Pearl Harbor being there. Of course, my dad –and the rest of the men in our family were navy people, all but my dad having reached the rarified air of Admiralty.
I rose before everyone else, and at 10 years old it took me no time at all to get bored. I read over a comic book as I lay on the living room floor of our cottage. The sun was just up and the birds had begun their songs and I could smell flowers in the air. I decided that no one would mind if I went to look at the famous beach we’d come to visit, after all, it was right outside. I donned my swimming trunks, newly purchased by my mother at Bloomingdales in New York and grabbed a short sleeve collared front button shirt and stole out the door.
It was already warm and a few people were on the beach in the early morning. It was between six-thirty and seven o’clock. Out on the water there were already people surfing. The boards were huge and ridden by muscled me bronzed to the consistency of leather by the sun. The waves weren’t very big; Waikiki isn’t where the big waves come, the big ones happen on the north shore. There were no kite boarders or wind surfers. Those sports were still three to four decades away.
As I peered out over the water I noticed that far off from shore, perhaps as much as a half mile or more, it looked like there were a few people standing out there, the water at their waist level. I couldn’t believe my eyes seeing someone so far from shore standing in such shallow water. I decided to go see what they were doing. I was a little frightened, but I set my course for one of the people I saw out there and waded in. It seemed like I walked forever, the water often coming up to my chest. A few times I could have sworn that something in the water brushed my leg or foot, giving me a rush of adrenaline.
At last. “Hi mister. What’cha doing way out here?” I asked.
“I should ask you the same, my friend. What brings you so far from shore?” said the man. He was Samoan ancestry for sure, a genuine Hawaiian. He was wearing trunks,a Hawaiian shirt and wore a wide brimmed straw hat with a colorful swatch of cloth as a band. As he spoke to me, I could see that he was feeling around with his feet, first one and then the other.
“I was curious about what you were doing way out here and how come you could stand up so far from shore. This beach doesn’t sink into the ocean very much.”
“No, it doesn’t. To answer your question, I’m hunting for baby octopus. I take tourists on fishing trips and we use the octopus for bait.”
My eyes widened. When I thought of octopuses I thought of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Sure, that was a squid but close enough. I lookede at the man for a minute and then said “Nuh Uh. You are not.”
At that moment his face brightened and he said “Hah! I got another one.” He lifted his foot up and wrapped around it was a small octopus. Its tenacles were about a foot long and his suckers about the size of pencil erasers mostly. He used both hands to disentangle it from his foot and shoved it into a cloth bag he had strapped across his neck and shoulder. “Try it.” he told me. “Just feel around gently with your toes. The octopuses lay on the bottom, often with a bit of sand on them to hide behind. They’ll grab your foot and then you can catch him.”
I began to shuffle around going this and that way, feeling the bottom for octopuses. The previous summer I’d learned about snipe hunts and I was beginning to think that maybe this was some kind of similar prank when I felt something wrap itself around my foot and ankle. I screamed and yanked my foot up hard enough to bowl me over backwards. I came up sputtering and wide eyed frightened. “Take it easy! Slow down! said the Hawaiian man. He came and lifted me onto his shoulders and took to unwrapping the octopus from my foot. He got it off and handed it up to me. “Here you go. Your first catch!”
I accepted the oozing mass of life after sliding from his shoulders and it immediately attached its suckers to both of my arms, handcuffing me. I worried at the creature for a couple of minutes while the Hawaiian watched and chuckled. He finally asked if I would like some help and I held my hands up to him. “Yes, please.” I said. He detangled the octopus and then held it out to me. I said thanks but declined to accept it again. I wasn’t sure what I would do with it and so I told him he could have it as bait. He said “Mahalo!” and the wiggly mass went into the sack. I noticed that the man was wearing a watch and asked him what time it was, on hearing that it was almost 9 am I figured I’d better hot foot it to the cottage. Of course, it takes a while to cover that distance in water that stayed above my waist but below my shoulders.
As I came out of the water onto dry land, a football plopped into the sand right next to me. I picked it up and looked for the owner. I was stunned to see none other than Elroy ‘Crazy Legs’ Hirsch if the Los Angeles Rams jogging to me. I followed his playing and had his card, but I had just seen him in a biographical movie about himself just five days before. I recognized him instantly. I introduced myself and told him I was a fan and had just seen his movie, and then lamented that I wished my dad was here. He wouldn’t believe I’d met Crazy Legs Hirsch. He said no problem, he’d be glad to meet my father if he was nearby.
And thus I presented myself at our cabin. My father was about to lay into me for running off, but stopped and asked the large gentleman with me what his business was. “Dad! That’s Crazy Legs Hirsch!” I said. My dad looked at him and Hirsch smiled.
“Well I’ll be!” said my dad. He grabbed Hirsch’s hand and shook it. “It’s a pleasure to meet you; my son and I are fans.”
The football player stayed a polite few minutes then had to go. But not before my dad and I both got photos of us standing next to the celebrity and collected his autograph on a Halekulani cocktail napkin.
No more was said about my early morning foray into the unfamiliar surroundings, meeting Hirsh had pushed it totally from his mind. Either that, or he figured he’d let it go, what with it being the Christmas season and our being in Hawaii. I’d expected a spanking, the usual answer to my various departures from the path of righteousness. Instead I was treated to a tour of Pearl Harbor and the Arizona, an outrigger canoe ride, and to go to a luau where they dug a hole, made a fire, and then buried a pig with the fire under it and huge green leaves atop it. They left it cooking, buried, for almost six hours.
If only every time I broke the rules things would go so well.