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His appearance alone could prompt a recent police academy graduate to draw his service weapon and put Kamekona under arrest on weapons charges. He looked more dangerous than the battleship Missouri meekly chained in Pearl Harbor like an aging junkyard dog. At least, such had been my impression six months earlier when I met him for the first time on the Keehi Lagoon shore. As I was passing the Mdock, still a hundred yards short of Magic Carpet’s berth, something unnatural registered in my peripheral vision, sending my heart in a gallop. Like a hawk’s shadow falling on the ground in front of a chicken, it triggered a dollop of adrenaline even before I could realize what alarmed me. Six feet above the water table, I saw two humongous bare feet and above them a pair of unbelievably muscular calves dangling in the air. My eyes followed up to reveal the megalith figure slumped on top of a fat concrete pylon anchoring the dock. The stature was slumped in the Rodin’s “Thinker” position. I was facing the huge dark-brown back crowned with massive shoulders and flanked by arms whose triceps bulged like a cruise ship’s shore ties. The creature’s face, turned to the ocean, was despondently cradled in its open hands. A monument! The colossus of Keehi! The alarming thought rang in my head. The State of Hawaii promised to do something about the pathetic condition of its small boat ports … and this is their solution! But the legs were moving, the heels slowly banging against the concrete. As I inched toward the water edge to sneak a look from the front, the handsome face with a pair of big, black and very sad eyes turned toward me without a word. “What’s up, man?” I started hesitantly. “You comfy there? You might break a nail if you slip of this bar stool.” “Dead anyway,” Hercules confessed. Then he added in a strangled painful whisper, “AIDS.” His face hid again in his palms. Oh, man! It … like struck me across the face. No human body is strong enough to resist the wretched silent killer. But my professional optimism kicked in. “You know, AIDS is a nasty disease … but it can be treated now. I am a doctor; we can talk about it. But you have to come down.” His black eyes swept me with slight interest and he nodded. I prudently stepped back, so that a few hundred pounds of his body wouldn’t fall on me as he
scrambled down the pylon. But the colossus confidently jumped off and landed on the wooden dock where it was attached to the concrete embankment. A sun baked board cracked in the middle but stayed in place, held by rusty nails. “Kamekona,” he said and timidly extended his hand, not sure if I would touch the condemned man. “Sometimes, they call me Shark.” He smiled shyly. “Chris,” I said, grabbing his spade-size but amazingly delicate hand. Admittedly, I experienced some trepidation because his grip could put my extremity into a plaster cast for a month. But his touch was gentle. I was like a pat down executed by an airport security agent, the possibility of a severe discomfort understood but unrealized. We sat down side by side on a pile of concrete slabs in the shade of a restroom building nearby. There is no doctor—medical, naturopathic or of the witch variety— who is not bummed for a free consultation at least once a week. Medical boards hate it. Doctors despise it—as such advice carries a significant possibility of making an ass of yourself—but … it just comes with a territory. A black tie dinner or a chicken wings bar—the locale changes but the routine remains the same. The clue to a successful bar stool consultation is to get to heart of the problem immediately. Get the inquirer to stammer out her question, nod the head wisely once or twice, perhaps take a sip from a glass or blow a few rings of smoke. Then give a piece of your mind. One piece and one piece only. The first idea that seems reasonable at the moment—under circumstances that might include mild alcohol intoxication— must do. In fact, that’s all that the inquirer expects. A differential diagnosis or listening to the patient’s grousing concerning the emotional problems caused by her spouse—all this brain-straining work belongs rightfully to a regular doctor, during his or her office hours. A possible exception to the rule could be made only if the whole enquiry is a scam, a ploy invented by a frivolous partyer who simply wants to screw with you, an event more frequent than the American Medical Association cares to admit. The essence of Kamekona’s problem fell right into this framework. His loveappendage started burning like hell when he pissed, and to make things worse, it dripped some fluid that looked to my patient like “this shit that comes on top of cottage cheese, when you leave it too long in a fridge.” He astutely connected his symptoms with the quick but passionate love making that had taken place in the wahine portion of the very facility our backs were resting against. “AIDS,” he had concluded and decided to wait for the inevitable at his favorite place. High up on the pylon, he could take in most of his beloved Keehi Lagoon, caressed by a gentle breeze. Undisturbed, he watched life flowing below his feet, no passerby aware of the tragedy happening above. He looked over motorboats getting ready for a tuna hunt, coughing out smoke from their cold and damp motors. Sailors washed their yachts and dried fluttering canvass never feeling his
loving eyes. Sunburned bums paraded through the gravel parking lot, fishing rod in one hand, a brown-bagged bottle in the other, not knowing they were the last witnesses of his days. The world kept grinding on in its usual way, even as his penis was rotting away. To the jaded ear of an emergency room doc, his problem indeed fell into the general field of sexually transmitted diseases, but I strongly favored gonorrhea over HIV as the source of his misery. “Clap?” The giant looked at me with disbelief, but his eyes were already losing this lead-dull glint of despair. “Do they still have clap? I thought AIDS was all there’s now!” His hope reborn, Kamekona easily agreed to go to the free clinic in Waikiki. Hell, he would gladly put his sorry member into some knowledgeable hand, if that could take care of the pesky burning. And having his premature death sentence commuted would surely beat sitting on his perch. Now, with the promise of his life renewed, Kamekona declared he had to go to Waikiki anyway. He was supposed to teach tourists the art of surfing in front of the Waikiki Sheraton. As it always happens when a nose is being stuck in someone else’s business, there were consequences to face. For my modest involvement into his affairs, Kamekona gave me full credit for saving his life and so adopted me as his friend. For the benefit of mainland readers unfamiliar with Hawaiian customs, I have to state clearly that being a kanaka’s friend is not something to be taken lightly. It is not a simple social commitment in a haole’s understanding of the word, the kind of obligation that can be easily discharged by knocking off a few beers together once a week. This ritual is important, of course, but it does not even touch on the meaning of friendship in Hawaiian sense. For Kamekona and his ilk, a friend is someone perhaps more important than a brother. After all, you cannot chose your brother and a miscreant lousy sibling may happen in every family. Nothing one can do about it but acknowledge graciously the blood ties without losing face and temper. Friends—on the other hand—friends you choose. You must select them carefully because your friend’s problem becomes your own predicament. You are up to your eyeballs in it, hundred percent, without ifs or buts, until the problem clears one way or another. A friend can take you to some nifty places or drag you under the ice, if such a metaphor is allowable in Hawaii. Your fate and his destiny are spliced together like fibers in a coconut husk rope, intimately and inseparably.
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