An Aloha Shirt

Retirement had been half, half good so far.  The bad side was that he still had never established a routine with which he was comfortable.  When he’d worked, his schedule had been pretty much set.  He’d actually liked that part of work.

Today, I’ll start with a walk, he thought.  Why not.

This he did often, sometimes even seven days in a row, but it was still not a routine carved in granite.  If he didn’t feel like walking, he wouldn’t, but when he did walk, and no matter which direction the journey took him, he would always find some store from which to steal an Aloha shirt.

It was not uncommon to see people walk around anywhere in Hawai‘i wearing some sort undershirt, be it tank-top or T-shirt, with a second layer of unbuttoned button-down shirt, usually of the Aloha variety, though a plaid lumberjack shirt or a dress shirt of some sort would complete the island casual look as well.

It was not uncommon then to see some man clad either with an overshirt.  Or not.  This was Hawai‘i, where the most common dress code was, as the islanders might say, whatevahs.

So he would go into a store wearing only a tank-top, and emerge with an Aloha shirt overshirt.  It was the perfect disguise, if you will.

Over the course of his retirement years, his Aloha shirt collection had grown quite large.  It was so large in fact that it now occupied nearly two closets, eight feet across.

If I were to stop now, he wondered, how long it would take me to start with the very first shirt and wear each one after that, one a day.  Maybe two years?  Or more?  Would I die before I could wear every one of them?

He’d mused about what he would do when he had filled the second closet.  His third and last closet held his other shirts, jackets, slacks, and his jeans. The thought of gradually donating one or two Aloha shirts at a time to the Salvation Army had crossed his mind.

But then it hit him.  What he’d do was wear a shirt when he started off his walk, then go into a store, steal a new one, and replace it with the old one.

He pictured an employee’s confusion when the old shirt was discovered in the racks.  Because he wore most of the shirts once or twice at most, they were all as good as new in appearance.  The only oddity would be that the price tag would be missing.  It would be even more interesting if either the shirt pattern was no longer used or if the shirt were a store brand, but from another store. 

That, he smiled thinking about it, would be quite a puzzlement. Ah, the poor employee, though. This gave him pause. But the pause passed.

From the first closet, he pulled the first shirt, left side.  Rather than waste time debating the aesthetics of each shirt in order to come up with one from which he was willing part, he simply chose the first shirt.  It was a green and white palaka shirt, a fairly complex checkered pattern.  He’d actually stolen this one from the Sears store at Ala Moana Shopping Center.  Since that time, Sears had been demolished.  He missed it; it had been one of his favorite shoplifting sites.  They always had an enormous selection of beautiful Aloha shirts from which to choose.

He drove to Magic Island at Ala Moana Beach Park.  Today, he thought, he would walk up to Central Union Church in Makiki, one of his favorite routes.  On the way back, he would walk through the Ala Moana Shopping Center and pick a store.  Any store.  He chuckled to himself.

It was trickier these days because of the Covid pandemic.  The stores were open again, but there were many fewer shoppers.  To simply slip on a shirt was still easy enough, however, but to slip one off and then slip another on, ah, that was a more risky challenge, a more exciting gambit, and just plain more fun.

He approached the mall from the mauka, or mountain side, coming straight down Ke‘eaumoku Street.  Once he reached the mall itself, bottom level, he began a counterclockwise route.  It hit him right off.  The ABC store.  One of three in the mall.  And the beauty of it was that ABC always had several Aloha shirt racks right at their wide open entrance, beckoning the Japanese tourists, like bait on a hook.

He smiled to think of all those tourist couples in matching ABC Aloha shirts and mu‘umu‘us.  Let them try and find a match for a green palaka shirt.

Casually and ever so slowly, he approached the racks projecting just out onto the sidewalk.  The idea was to decide which shirt he would take before he actually went by the store entrance.

The first shirt within grabbing distance was a very loud orange and black of Diamond Heads and palm trees.  This one did not appeal to him.  Not that he minded loud, had stolen many such, just not black and orange.  The color combination was too Halloween-y for his tastes, too ghost and skeleton-y.

But the second shirt was a beautiful floral design, large hibiscuses in blue and white and red.  This he thought as he finally reached the rack was the shirt he wanted, and like a thief in the night, but in this case the day, he smoothly slipped off his green palaka shirt, slipped on the blue, white, and red one, and went strolling off down the sidewalk.

“Excuse me!” a woman’s voice called from behind.

He kept walking casually on.

“Excuse me,” she said.  Now she was right behind him.  That voice.

He turned, his heart beating, his breath shallow as a grave dug in arctic tundra at midnight.

The young Asian woman was holding his green palaka shirt. The woman, despite her mask, looked terribly familiar.

“Why,” she said, lowering her mask, “why did you do that?”

He stood stunned.  “Andy?” he said, lowering his own mask. “What you, you, I nevah know, why you working at ABC?”

“My company closed last month.  Bills still have to be paid. I needed a job fast.”

“But why, why you nevah ask me for help?”

“I’ve never asked you for anything. I never will.”

She held out the green palaka shirt to him.

Taking off the blue and white and red, he handed it over to her.  If felt like a hostage exchange.

“Please don’t ever come into the store again.  If you do, I’ll have you arrested.”

With that she turned, and he watched his daughter walk away.

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