Lieutenant David Chan sat at his dining room table. The sun was going down. Since his daughter’s death, he’d been drinking more. He was not an alcoholic by any means, but when he came home from work, the first thing he would do nowadays was pour himself a double Jack Daniel’s and sit.
After his daughter’s death, he had gone to her apartment in Moiʻiliʻili to collect her belongings. There’d not been much. Not wanting to look at any of it for longer than necessary, Chan did a fast survey and took most of it directly to the trash.
He did, however, keep her photo portfolio. Just before her death, Elaine had decided to document the redevelopment of the area known as ʻAʻala Triangle, situated next door to, and often simply thought of as a part of, Chinatown. This was, his daughter said, a horror story. The City’s project would displace a few thousand residents and a few hundred businesses, leaving them to hunt frantically for new locations. Lucky ones would find places they could afford, family who would take them in, maybe affordable business space in other parts of the island. But what about the rest? For many, this would prove impossible to do. Many would become homeless, some would have to move back to the Philippines, or Japan, or wherever they’d originally come from.
She’d questioned the motives behind the plan, and had often said that you knew things like this always came down to money. Some people were going to make it. Lots of it.
Chan, and every Chinese in Hawai’i, knew about the huge building that would be constructed next to Nu’uanu Stream, a complex of businesses gathered under one roof to celebrate Chinese culture, and he’d heard people talk about all the condominiums that would be built in the area, units that few being displaced could ever afford to rent, let alone own.
Chan was looking at a series of photos of a theater Elaine had watched being knocked down. He sipped his whiskey, thought about all the hours he’d spent at the Prince Theater on Kukui, now a gaping hole in the ground. He could still remember clearly the day he and the rest of the Chan clan had rolled down the hill from Punchbowl, after a huge pre-screening celebration, in order to see the first movie made about his grandfather. The extended Chan family took up half the theater.
Ten years old at the time, David remembered how confused he’d been by the face of the actor who portrayed his grandfather, how this had to be one of the strangest looking Chinese he’d ever seen. Afterward, when he’d said this to his father, David Senior had laughed derisively, then told him that the man was not Chinese at all.
“Don’t you know, Junior, that there aren’t any Asian movie stars. We can play maids, chauffeurs, and opium addicts, buddy, but we ain’t box-office, David. We’re just not white enough.”
David Senior had left it at that, but David Junior had gone to sleep that night wondering too about the strong accent the man in the movie had used. While it was true that his grandfather hailed from Canton, he’d lost much of his accent over the years. In fact, what was more obvious to David, was that his grandfather could speak some pretty mean Pidgin, Hawaiian Creole English, when he wanted to do so. Other than that, his grandfather could easily have passed the English standard exam, as had everyone else in the family, to get into Roosevelt High School. No question.
Another thing that bothered Chan were the strange sayings the actor would spout, odd things, like about how every maybe has a wife called maybe-not, or every man must wear out at least one pair of fool’s shoes. He’d never heard his grandfather say anything that sounded so stupid.
Then a year or so later, one night late, as a family party honoring the man who’d made his grandfather famous by writing about him was winding down, David had listened to the author and his grandfather, drinking out on the lanai, make up more of these inane sayings. The more they drank, the more ridiculous the statements became.
All the while, this author was writing down what the two considered the “good ones.”
“You sure you don’t mind me having your character say these things?”
“Well,” his grandfather had said, “since you’ve made me a teetotaler, I guess rattling off a few of these aphorisms will serve as a fine substitute characteristic for being drunk.”
Even though his grandfather had said he didn’t mind, the older David got, the more he wondered about that. The accent. The “isms.” Bad enough that they were in print. After all, how many people read? Stuff like that? But movies, that was something else. Audiences ate up every one of the movies about his grandfather, and when David Junior sat down to count one day, he realized that his grandfather had been played by four Haoles, two Japanese, and one Korean. Never a Chinese actor yet.
Would a Chinese actor even touch the part? Chan wondered.
He finished off his Jack Daniel’s in the dark. His son would probably not be home until late, if at all, Chan thought, recalling his own college Halloween parties. As a kid, he’d looked forward to the candy orgy. As an adult, with his wife and children, Halloween had always been a family favorite. Perhaps that’s why David Chan dreaded this night so much now.
There were no lights on in the house. There was no candy to hand out anyway. He was set for an early night. Chan got up and went to pour himself a very short nightcap. Just then, the doorbell rang.
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Today’s word is
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