I’m okay with turning 85 years old tomorrow. I see all those obituaries of people in their 70s. You know — that Billy Joel song — “Only The Good Die Young.”
True, I no longer jump out of airplanes. No longer fly them, either. Not racing J-Class boats at Keehi Lagoon or diving for black coral off Lahaina. No hikes up to Lanai Hale. I did get a priority Covid vaccination and everybody now calls me Uncle and offers me seating.
Some people get afraid of old age and inevitable death. I celebrate a life well lived. A long marriage to the fabulous Denby Fawcett, a moral child, travel galore, and a writing career in which I was able to infect some minds with curiosity.
Along the way I made mistakes, did some things I’d not repeat with a second chance. And who knows — I could have another 20 years to go like my late friends Sau Chun and Betty Ho. But I’m not counting on that.
Mainly, I got to watch our culture change. I was born just as Hitler was talking up a movement to supplant the Weimar Republic in Germany. My memory of WWII was that chocolate was rationed, and our German landlord was taken to detention at Camp Perry near Clinton, Ohio. My dad fired off his 12-guage shotgun from our Sheffield Lake, Ohio, porch when peace was announced.
My parents were poor. My dad had finished high school. Not sure about my mom, variously known in official documents as Ann or Anne, Zydiac or Saunders. That’s a total mystery to this day. Dad insisted I should become a carpenter or a plumber at a trade school because people always needed those, even during the Great Depression.
That became moot because I ran away at 15 and did go to college. I do wish I also had learned carpentry and plumbing so I could have saved myself from the pros who charge me grandly per hour.
Through my late teens in Florida I thought it was perfectly normal to have White Only and Colored Only public bathrooms and drinking fountains and racial sections of towns and cities and schools. It took reading and travel for me to shake that. I wish I could tell you I was a young progressive, but I wasn’t. Not until I moved to Europe and saw the world as it really is — full of people of many races and religions, cultural and sexual practices.
I’d eventually work at 6 newspapers, KGMB-TV News and NBC News. Cover wars in Nigeria, Vietnam and Iraq. Watch journalism rapidly drain away its vibrancy, get furloughed from my MidWeek column as the pandemic picked up, and move to this blog, where I don’t have to worry about offending an advertiser and am my own editor and publisher. A scribbler’s dream!
Got a George Foster Peabody award for a China documentary in the 80s and a one-man show at the Honolulu Museum of Art of my China photography. Two Emmys for local documentaries. Worked with many talented reporters and videographers.
Our daughter is a State Department foreign service officer, currently based in Canberra for USAID. Makes more money than I ever did, and travels more, too. Didn’t make all the mistakes I did. That pleases me because with children you never know what you’re going to get!
The best move I ever made was coming to Hawaii. I think I knew it would become my home the moment I stepped off the plane and got a real flower lei from a young woman in a real hula skirt at the bottom of the plane-departure stairs. I shucked my suit and rented a walk-up in the Tatibouet apartments on Kuhio Avenue. Went to work the next day at the Honolulu Advertiser and was surprised to learn that this city is where Pearl Harbor is! Hey, I had been a Europe resident 1956-1962. Who knew Hawaii?
That first night at the newspaper, the photographers Ishii, Umeda and Chong took me to a Dillingham Boulevard bar where the pupu was steak, ribs and chicken and several exotic Japanese delicacies, and I was hooked for life. Later, the steak, ribs and chicken — and even the popcorn — would disappear; so would the AJA waitresses, and it all became Korean “you buy me drink?”.
This begins my 58th year in Hawaii. Everything worked out okay. That’s the most anyone can hope for.