And, so, the story continues:
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Before coming to Hawaii, I had absolutely no direct knowledge of the drug scene… coming from a small Northeastern town kept me isolated from that whole “culture”. Sure, I had heard of pot and LSD, but I knew no one who had used it and I personally had no contact with it. That being said, I did have a mild curiosity about it.
On weekend nights, we would head down to Honolulu to walk the tourist-crowded streets and absorb some of the local “color”. One of the places we frequented was a street-side “park” that had a number of small vendor booths and a mix of locals and tourists wandering around. I ended up befriending a number of locals, a few of which were obviously “hippies”. Eventually, one of them asked if we would be interested in getting high and I hesitantly agreed. Even though I tried a few “hits” on a couple of different occasions, I never really got much out of it and didn’t see what the hoopla was all about. One night, they asked if I wanted to buy some and I said I would take a “sample” to my friends so we could pool our money if we decided we liked it. They gave me a small bud and I took it home. We (Joe, Frank and I) found a pipe and filled it with the small sample. We smoked it until all that was left was seeds and none of us felt “high”. We posited that maybe we hadn’t really got all of it and kept trying to burn the seeds… obviously, this didn’t help. We concluded that it was no big deal and put the whole drug thing on the back burner, so to speak.
One of the guys boarding at our “home” was from California and seemed to have a lot of experience with drugs (he proved to be quite a bullshitter and so we treated his assertions with much skepticism). He said he had some “acid” and would sell us a “hit” for $4, so I decided to give it a try, although everyone else declined. I’m not sure if I even got off since I felt an overwhelming need to “act” as if I was “tripped out” to prove it was such a great time. For all I know, the pill was just aspirin he had in his pocket… these experiences left me somewhat unexcited about the drug scene, but I was still willing to learn more.
When I had moved into my third residence (more on this later), one of the cottages in the neighborhood housed a bunch of Navy guys. They were often out to sea, but when they had shore leave, they would throw gigantic parties at their place. I was at one of these parties and we were sitting on the floor around a huge spool\table (low tables are an Oriental custom) and the table was covered with food, drinks and all sorts of drugs. We were passing a waterpipe loaded with Vietnamese pot (I think it was laced with opium), followed by an assortment of different bottles of whiskey, rum, vodka, etc. Some time during the evening, someone popped a pill in my mouth and said “enjoy the trip!”… Dude, I got off!! I couldn’t believe that the world I experienced that night was the same place I had lived in for the past 19 yrs. After that, I never had a problem getting high on anything I sampled. This ultimately led to about 4 yrs of totally insane fun-time (but often irresponsible) behavior. More on this in another story.
Image by Trisha Weir via Flickr
Exploring the Island
We spent a considerable amount of time checking out the sites and beaches on the Island, One of our favorites was Waikiki because it was nearby and loaded with great looking tourist chicks. Joe and Frank decided to try surfing but, because of my poor swimming skills, I would stay on the beach while they went out and tried the “surf”. Waikiki is a very popular spot for beginner surfers because it is very shallow for quite a distance out and the waves are smaller and easy to navigate. One day, I got bored and decided to “visit” the guys who were sitting and waiting for a wave. I was wearing sneakers because the ocean floor has a lot of sharp coral there and, because the water is so clear, I was really enjoying the show as I walked out. As I was approaching the area where several surfers had gathered, one of the locals asked me: “what are you doing out here? don’t you know about the ‘cudas?”. “Cudas?” I said, with a little apprehension. He continues: “yeah, barracudas… dude, they hang out hidden in the coral and they are known to attack anything that moves!”. I can’t really express the panic I felt at that moment… I was “way out” and, as I turned toward the beach, it looked like it was thousand miles away… how was I going to get back?
Somehow, I managed to take the first steps toward shore, watching carefully as I stepped between the clumps of now-barracuda-infested coral. All I could imagine was some fish taking a chunk out of my leg or dragging me off to feed its young! It was one of the most terrifying times in my life, but, hey, I survived. That was one of the last times I actually went into the water while in Hawaii.
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On another occasion, we traveled to Sunset Beach and spent the day splashing around and ogling the local fare. It was a great beach, but not much happened except, on the way home, I discovered my class ring was missing! We immediately turned around and tried to find it (HAHA!) but to no avail.
Another time we stopped at Waimea Bay where some of the worlds best pro surfing takes place. The waves were about 20-25 feet high that day and we were told they get much larger during the winter “storm surf”. I also learned that what made the waves so high and spectacular (and dangerous!) was the hard bottom comprised of mostly coral. When the big waves come in, they suck the water out and there is little left at the bottom for the surfer to fall into. Can you imagine falling from the crest of a 30 ft wave into a bunch of rocks and then getting crushed by tons of water!? Another reason not to pursue a career in surfing…
One of our friends (Dave Jensen) from NY got bored after we left and decided to move to Hawaii to join the party. He had a cycle, too, and so we took a ride around the island so I could show him some of the sites. They had no helmet law there and so we often rode without one (foolish) and, on that particular day, all I wore was shorts and sandals. While riding on the north side of the island, we came into a gravel strewn curve and my bike slid out from under me. I bounced and bumped along the rough pavement until my bike and I came to rest in a ditch. Needless to say, I lost a fair amount of skin all over my body, especially on my knees and elbows, but nothing was broken. We got directions to the local hospital and Dave gave me a ride on the back of his bike. The ER people kinda freaked when I hobbled in but managed to stop the bleeding, clean up the cuts and apply bandages. I hopped back on the bike and Dave drove me back to my bike. On inspection, it seemed drivable but a few things were messed up: one mirror was missing, the gas tank was badly dented, much of the chrome was scratched up and the shifter was bent. To top it all off, scabs had formed on my cuts and I was starting to stiffen up. But, we had no other way to get the bike home, so I gingerly hopped on my bike and we slowly made our way home.
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After 2 months in our first place, we moved to an unfurnished apartment closer to school. We had a few mattresses on the floor for beds and a giant wire-spool end for a table. That was about it. During this time, we discovered the PX on the local naval base and were able to buy gallons of booze for a very cheap price…. big mistake! And, we were able to qualify for food stamps, so that helped. It was during this time that I realized I didn’t have enough money to make a full year in school so I decided to try finding a job. That’s when I learned about how it feels to be discriminated against. Hawaii is the only place in the US that a white person is in the minority and is treated like a second rate citizen. Sure, they love tourists who come in and spend their money but they hate mainlanders who try to come there to live. Needless to say, all my attempts met with total rejection.
I don’t remember exactly why, but we decided to split up at this point. I got a place sharing a cottage on a small side street. It was a very diverse neighborhood, and the residents were quite interesting. I already mentioned the Navy crew I often partied with; there was also a group of “he\shes” (gay hairdresser guys who dressed as women when “going out”) and a small biker gang. These two groups stuck in my mind because I spent a lot of time socializing with them. One of the favorite “games” the he\shes liked to play was to go down to one of the popular hang-outs for guys who were on shore leave. They would dress themselves in very “hot” outfits (believe me when I say you could hardly tell they were men) and they would flaunt their stuff until they gathered a bunch of unsuspecting swabees. They would invite them to their place for a party and when things got heated up (as in some of the guys were starting to grope and grab), they would pull open their clothes and yell, as one “sorry, we’re just men!”. As you might imagine, this didn’t go over very well with most of the participants and there were often threats of bodily harm by the now-inebriated crew. The he\shes were well prepared for this and would pull out pistols (that they had hidden beforehand) and convinced the “guests” that it was now time to leave as they escorted them out the door. I know this seems far-fetched but I can assure you it is all very true… I witnessed it for myself and it totally blew my mind. I think these “guys” liked me because I was pretty open-minded and held no judgments about who they were. They invited me and my friends (Joe and Frank) to a Xmas party they were throwing, and we accepted. On this occasion, for reasons I’m not too sure of, they dressed like regular guys and we all just hung out and partied. Then, it came time to open gifts: they sat in pairs (with their significant others), often on each others lap, and opened the gifts. There is something really strange about watching grown men hugging and kissing each other as they get all excited about the new bras and other “girly stuff” they received. Although I found it rather amusing, Joe and Frank really freaked and decided to leave… how rude!
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The other people I got to know pretty well (mostly because they always had good pot) were the bikers. One of them had a job collecting garbage at Pearl Harbor and took me with him a few times to help out. He was supposed to pay me for that but never got around to it… in retrospect, it was worth the chance to get a tour of the facility that no tourist ever got. One thing I learned, by seeing the garbage that each ship “provided”, was that submariners ate better than anyone else in the Navy (lots of lobster and steak). I also got to see the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise up close in dry deck. It was there to be repaired after a fire that had caused heavy damage. As a fringe benefit, when it became time for me to fly back to Auburn, and I realized I had no winter wear for the trip (it was January), he got me a real Pea Coat off one of the ships.
As you may have gathered by now, I did end up dropping out of school… I was out of money, I had lost all enthusiasm for doing the work needed, and I was terribly homesick. I was able to salvage most of my classes by getting passing grades and I was later able to transfer them toward my degree work back in Auburn. One of the pleasant surprises I had was in my Italian class. A few days into the semester, my teacher asked me to stay after class and she asked me if I knew what part of Italy my grandparents were from. When I told her it was near Naples, she informed me that her maiden name was Colella and here family was also from that region and she had married a guy whose last name was Preston, who was from Cortland, NY. As we talked, I realized that he had lived on the same street as the Evangalistas, my cousins (the name of the street was Preston St, since his family had lived there for so many years). I think this played a part in my final grade: toward the end of the semester, she asked us to write a paper, stating what grade we thought we should get and why. I explained that, although I probably deserved a C, I really needed a B to help pull up my miserable GPA. And, that’s what I got! Thank you, Mrs. Preston!
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Oh, yeah, I did get a chance to go to a concert in Diamond Head. That’s right… IN Diamond Head! I don’t remember much about that day except going through a long tunnel and being surrounded by a sea of hippys. I know I got pretty fucked up and I can’t remember who played there, and years later, someone told me Hendrix had played there. Although sometimes I imagine I saw him that day, I have no clear memory of it.
I know I’ve missed some pretty significant “happenings”, and, as they come to mind in the future, I’ll be adding them. To the best of my knowledge, these stories are true and accurate. One major “shift” that this whole episode initiated was my introduction and absorption into the drug culture. Up to that point, I had a pretty “normal” view of life: you went to school, partied a little, got your diploma (I was working toward a degree in Electrical Engineering), got a job, found someone you “loved”, married her, raised a family and lived happily ever after. When I returned to Auburn right after the first of the year, I enrolled back at ACC but couldn’t get back into the school thing. I ended up dropping out and partying, non-stop, for the next 4+ yrs. During that time, I met Leslie, married her, and started my own electronic repair business (thanks to my father), had a couple of great kids and, later, returned to college to get an AAS degree. I plan on writing more about some of the more significant events of that period, but for now, that is a pretty good summation.
In closing, I’d like to say that I’ve often wondered what my life would have been like if this whole episode in my life had not happened, or, at least, had been significantly different. I find that this is a waste of time… in retrospect, I feel as if everything had to go the way it did. I’m very happy with who I am, NOW, and I can see clearly that my life path, although bumpy at times, was exactly perfect in the way it unfolded. My apologies to all those who were hurt or negatively affected by my choices during that period… I always did the best I could with what I knew at that time. Some choices were better than others… but, hey, that’s life!
Oh, yeah, a couple of other vignettes just came to mind. My family came to meet me at Hancock Airport… one of them was my Aunt Millie. The last they saw me, I had “normal” hair and had since let it go long. (I’ve seen pictures of myself from that time and, although I thought I looked pretty cool, I have to admit I looked like shit!) Well, everyone totally flipped when they saw me and she still reminds me of it to this very day. The other memory I have is going to the pool hall the next day after my return and seeing a bunch of my old drinking buddies. I walked up to them, all excited about my new discoveries, wanting to be the first to introduce them to the whole pot smoking thing. Well, to my surprise, they had gone through almost the same thing, and had all dropped out of their respective schools. That was the beginning of the “lost summer of ’69”. As I said before. I’ll cover that, and more, later, but if you want to skip to the next big event, read Woodstock… revisited.