Kailua Bums

The Kailua bums never came and never went.  

Like larvae springing from putrid meat, they’ve been lying deep within the veins and sinew of our Grade-A town since inception.  Kailua new-comers often like to think, when they discover one Kailua bum or another, that they finally found the lore-filled town of their cinematic upbringing. The added benefit is that the Kailua bums help those newcomers become Part of the Town. The watering hole badge of authenticity. Of course I know Mango Man! Living legend. Urban legend. Stands on the corner. Strong, sad, and silent. Army jacket, bust up walker, and knee-length dreadlocks.  

Mango Man belongs to Kailua. Kailua folks swap Mango Man vignettes with each other and also tell non-Kailua folks about the street person of mythical stature. Let’s visit and interview him whilst hospitalized, for our monthly publication, and ask him if he knows of his position and importance and, gosh, Mr. Mango, with that hospital haircut and wash you don’t quite cut your usual iconic figure. Do grow your matted locks quickly, oh please do. I have family visiting in April–their town doesn’t even have a Mango Man by the way. Isn’t that a shame? And their median home sales price reflects that deficiency. The Kailua Realtors Association attributes to Mango Man roughly eight-tenths of one percent of all Kailua realty value. It’s called Mango Appreciation. Commercial, residential, doesn’t make a difference.  

There are about four or five vehicular arteries that lead in and out of Kailua. The Kailua bums take their residence in a handful of colonies, typically down a ditch or over berm, hidden from sight save their beaten paths through standard side-of-the-road overgrowth. The Hau bush is Hawaii’s thorn-less briar patch A trail of plastic miscellany also marks the presence of Kailua Bums, bits of dreams, gathered with the greatest of expectations but discarded suddenly upon momentary and passing lucidity. One of these colonies is actually quite large and was founded by a nice schizophrenic man named Andy.

I first met Andy while he was doing yard work for my brother’s neighbor, Henry. Henry once owned the whole parcel then sold the back half to my brother to pay the Bills of Old Age. Henry was a gay cat and a nice odd duck. He had a big belly, big watery eyes magnified by big round spectacles, a white mustache, skinny little legs, and motored around on his power scooter. Sometimes Henry’s scooter got stuck in the yard, and that’s why he kept guys like Andy around. “Look,” Henry would tell the bum upon their first aquaintance, “you’ve got free reign of the kitchen and can sleep wherever you want. No rent. I don’t ask for much except that you (1) help me with the yard work, (2) take your shirt off when you work in the yard, and (3) launder my white undershirts but please don’t use bleach.” Henry had three pet geese and loved to mow grass on his riding lawn-mower. He often did my brother’s yard too.

I spoke to Andy once as he was breaking a massive hunk of concrete with an O’o, a steel hard metal shaft. Immensely dense, the O’o is built for destruction by way of hand and muscle. Andy was veiny and sweaty and his muscles rippling in the way of a bum who eats just enough to maintain freak strength. I can’t remember now how the conversation went but I think Henry had helped Andy get on meds so we probably had an average interaction where we both made observations about our immediate surroundings and the nature of things therein.  

Henry has long-since passed and I see Andy walking along one of the Kailua arteries, sometimes with caffeine beverage. He’s headed to or from his down-the-ditch-and-over-the-brook home, hidden from the eyes of me, you, Google, and tax collectors. Usually Andy walks but he’s also got a free bus pass from the state department of disability.  I’ve stood by at a bus stop and watched him roll a cigarette while murming standard paranoias and having no rememberance that we once shared words in the yard of an old chair-bound Portuguese man named Henry. I’ve ridden the bus with Andy several times too and while he definitely looks seriously unhinged at all times, he manages to keep to himself and causes no trouble except maybe to the consciences of the well-intentioned. That said, if I saw him holding an O’o today I’d walk the other way.

I’ve occasionally ridden the bus with a drunk named Sam. Sam joined Andy’s colony early on and became the go-to resident for all things Hooch. Sam happily greeted commuters on the the seven a.m. bus with liquor-drenched hellos and good morning to yous. Sam loved to look at the newspaper and turn the papers. He’d gesture to certain article, without reading, and issue a general position on the matter.  Then he’d sip some Pepsi-bottle moonshine.  I see Andy and Sam dive off the highway at the exact same point, so I know they’re dirt bedfellows, but I have never seen the two together. In fact, I’ve only ever seen solitary Kailua bums enter the colony and have never seen the residents together in public in one place. This may be by clear-eyed design of the original bumsubdivision developers.

Like most other bums, Kailua bums are avid participants in the Sharing Economy (think Airbnb). And in a lot of ways, the Kailua bums are like millenials. In fact, I live with a couple Kailua bums and you know what, there’s a little Kailua bum in all of us.  More on that later. For now I’ll leave it at this, the Kailua bums tell us a lot about Kailua, about ourselves, and about life in general. I’ll pick that up right after I get back from my mid-morning paddle.

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Well I’m back from my mid-morning paddle.  It’s windy, sunny, and the light blue-green water is shimmering.  During my paddle I thought further on our Kailua bums.  Specifically, I thought a bit about the Kailua bums and their stance on employment.  I concluded that most of them must be against it.  For a good time I also took a generalized stand against employment.  We’re innate makers, I reasoned, we should be able to make what we like and not worry about obtaining food and shelter.  Food and shelter.  Economic cornerstones. 

Food and shelter (plus, now, legal and medical bills, travel and entertainment and education) are why employment exists.  Before modern times, before Industrialisation, men and women were employed by the earth, Her forces, and themselves. Hunt, gather, build shelter from the functions of nature that are inconsistent with our bodily and mental comforts.  Was anybody really even homeless back then?  I don’t think so.  We then developed our skills and a simple market for the exchange of the products of our skills.  Apprenticeship, a developmental relationship aimed toward self employment, was perhaps the earliest form of formal employment.  But at some point that self employment direction became less common and Employment by Others took off.

Hey– I gotta take off and help my brother build a tree house for his daughter.  When I get back I want to share some research I did about some early-day employment history of a lot of ancient folks I think you’ll recognize.  It’ll tell us more about our drunk friend Sam.

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Ok I just got back.  You know how backyard projects go.  Lotsa time spent figuring out how to do it, do a little bit, mess up, re-do it, drink a couple beers.  Now I gotta run to Paul’s–its Fourth of July weekend after all.  Let’s reconvene in the morning.

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Okay, back again.  Sorry I missed yesterday.  Some stuff went down rather quickly.  Remember how I was headed to Paul’s last time we spoke?  Yeah, well, I got shit-canned with him and Will, my roommate.  Will’s been single for three months, Paul, single for two-and-a-half weeks.  My girlfriend is out of town.  So the boys cut loose.  

I’ll spare you most the details but let’s just say we got silly.  While at Creekside, our tavern, Will removed his cell phone case to reveal two little squares of what looked like a waxy black composition.  “Acid,” Will said through a smile.  It was about 1am, which seemed, at the time, like the perfect time for a hit of something brand new.  If me of today was sitting next to me of then, I’d probably say “hey pal, they’ll be a better time–go home and sleep.”  And so it goes.

I vaguely remember returning home from the bar and watching Hawaiian music videos on YouTube and chanting along with Will.  I remember laughing madly at the thought that one of the performers had a face like a giant smiling manta ray.  I don’t recall going to sleep or waking up but around 5:45am I became aware that I was lying in my bed surrounded, outside, by hundreds of birds making bird noises.  I could hear every singled chirp.  An unsettled feeling washed over me and the sheets sounded crunchy as I tossed and turned in earnest, hoping against hope to fall asleep and wake up normal.  No such luck.

I still haven’t placed my finger on the feeling.  Something about the birds made me think of them stripped of feathers.  Damn sky reptiles.  I’m a reptile too, I thought, and I have so few reptile talents.  Without my ego I was one of them, with underdeveloped survival skills.  This was a stressful realization.  My memory flashed back to the revealing of the two black tabs.  “Fuck,” I thought, “it’s gonna be a long day.”  

If you’re ever unsure if you’ve consumed a psychedelic product, look at your feet.  This was something magic mushrooms had taught me.  If they look a little pale, veiny, and vacillate between skeletal and engourgment, you’ve ingested a psychedelic.  I paced with toe-nailed froggy feet around the house which was dirty and cluttered and dingy and sort of pulsing with my heart rate.  I could not find peace of mind, so I went outside to look for it.  It wasn’t there because I could be seen by my neighbors.  I realized then that peace was not to be found at my house.  

“A secluded beach, that’s where I’ll find peace.”

I rushed backed into the house to check on Will.  I opened his door and could tell his sheets were crunchy too.

“Good morning Will.” He murmured sounds of disorientation.  I gave him a second.  “Good morning Will.  This isn’t going to be your average cup of coffee morning.” I could see a look of recognition in his puffy face and dilated eyes.  “Will, do your remember last night?  Okay, well we’re on acid and by my estimation, this ride’s gonna last until early afternoon.”  He blinked dumbly and fumbled with some more words.  

“How do you feel?”

“A little funny.”

“Me too.  I’m stressed out.  I gotta find a secluded beach.”

“I wanna cocoon.”

“My sheets were crunchy.  Aren’t yours?”

“No, they feel good.  I’m in a cocoon.”

“Good, good, that’s good Will.”

“The beach sounds far, what if you get all tired?  You should cocoon.”

“I tried Bud, and I can’t.  I’ve got to leave here.  I won’t take my phone, so if you need help call Paul.  Remember Paul, okay?”

“Yeah, right, yeah okay, Paul.”

“Good luck buddy.”

I grabbed a sweater for warmth and a change of clothes for comfort.  I filled a big cup with water and set out for the secluded beach.  As I was getting into my car I remembered one last thing–teeth.  I sprinted inside and brushed my teeth. “Going on a trip, my boy?,” I thought with a high-pitched British nanny accent, “Then don’t forget to brush your teeth!”  The nanny and I giggled mightily.  

The news program on my truck’s radio sounded nonsensical and made me feel even further from reality.  Music was no better and felt like a hollow pacifier.  I drove in silence.  I was not hallucinating, I was filled with a hyper awareness of Things.  I reflected back to my writings on homelessness and felt awash with understanding and guilt.  

“How dare I take lightly another person’s struggle with reality, serves me right.  Some people live constantly with this stress, eluded by peace of mind.  What torture.”  I continued this line of thought and drove onward toward the secluded beach.  The world passing outside my truck continually brought me reminders of my understanding of the tortue that is Never Finding Peace.