A Novella by James Strauss
Darren worked every Saturday morning at the Cannon Club to clean the place for evening dinner. The Officer’s Club was not large so he was the only busboy, just as he’d been the only slop boy the year before. The promotion had not come easy as Sergeant Cross, the Club’s manager, found him to be too good at cleaning plates and taking care of the kitchen. His promotion only resulted from the prior busboy breaking his leg playing football and the obvious fact that Mr. Wu, the chef, could not stand him.
While slop boy he’d talked non-stop to Mr. Wu, who never answered except to grunt like the three-hundred-pound pig he gave every appearance of being. Because he wouldn’t talk, Darren spoke for him, doing his best Charley Chan impersonations. The Chinaman had no sense of humor. When no one else was in the kitchen, Wu would throw a baked potato across the room to smack into the concrete wall to encounter the concrete wall just near Darren’s head. Darren was too quick to ever be hit, although he always had to clean up the mess. Sergeant Cross walked in the one time Wu threw a butcher knife.
Darren thought he was about to be fired over the incident, as chefs like Wu were extremely hard to find and hire…
“Your Dad got you this job,” Cross told Darren, pursing his lips in obvious frustration. “For some reason, you can’t get along with Wu, who’s normally the most peaceful of creatures. So, since I can’t really fire you, you’re promoted to busboy. Stay away from Wu. No more pay. You work for a portion of the tips. All tips go into the hopper. Even split between all wait staff.”
Darren had no idea at the time whether he was really being promoted or not, until the first distribution of money. His take-home pay was double what he’d been getting as a slop boy.
Jimmy Dorrenbacher walked through the double doors of club calling out Darren’s name. Nobody else except Darren was there on Saturday mornings. Dorrenbacher thought the other employees of the “O” Club were idiots, unaware that calling out Darren’s name when nobody else was there seemed to make him part of that group. He’d once gone on about how the club was in a different dimension. The local waitresses believed that ice expanded as it melted and flowed water onto the tablecloths, so all the glasses on customer tables had to be filled only half-full.
They also thought that real butter was derived from oil, and then colored. Dorrenbacher had once convinced them that eggs cracked slightly before boiling peeled easier. Forever after all eggs were cracked first, causing Sergeant Cross to get upset because the club’s egg usage went way up. When Cross lit into the wait staff about it Darren told him it was Wu’s idea. Cross never corrected or spoke to Wu, for reasons unknown, so the practice continued, much to the amusement of Jimmy.
“We’re celebrating my promotion,” Darren told his friend. “I’ve got three bucks. We can rent a real surfboard for two hours and then hit the drive-in for Green Rivers, and have enough left for a movie.” King’s pharmacy on Diamond Head Road served draft Green Rivers. Darren took his with ice while Dorrenbacher, believing he got more Green River for the same price, took his without.
They blasted down Monsarrat Avenue toward Waikiki in Jimmy’s dad’s Corvair. It was the latest convertible model and the only car on the road with a real factory supercharger. The single speaker radio was at max volume, playing “Walk Like a Man” by Frankie Valli. Both boys sang all the way to the bottom of the hill in their best falsetto, finally coming to a stop at the light leading to Ali Wai Boulevard.
“I wonder why we never seem to be able to pick up any girls with this great car?” Jimmy asked.
Darren occasionally thought about that himself.Maybe girls found the laughing and singing a bit too much. He didn’t share his thoughts on the subject with his friend, however.
They made their favorite circuit down the Ali Wai until having to double back on Kalakaua near the McCully bridge. Parking was easy since Darren’s Mom worked inside the Moana hotel complex. The doorman took the Corvair and brought it back without charge any time they showed up. They went inside to change into swimsuits and didn’t interrupt Darren’s mom at work.
The big vertical racks holding the rental surfboards were not far down the sand from the hotel. It was late in the morning so all the ‘guns,’ the really good boards, were
gone. They took out an eleven footer, as the ten’s were too hard to catch a wave with. It took both of them to carry it along the sand to Kuhio beach. There they launched and paddled out, Jimmy on his chest at the front of the board with Darren’s shoulders resting on the back of his ankles. Together they made the board streak through the water faster than they could ever walk it in the sand. They paddled all the way to Queens Surf. Queens was pounding, a south swell coming in through the Molokai Express that ran between the island of Oahu and Molokai. Queens was almost never running more than four feet but that day it was running a good six.
The size of the waves scared Darren a bit, as when the larger waves swept up he paddled hard to catch the break and then looked down to figure out where, riding the side of the breaking wave, he would attempt his turns. The water was sucked out of the rough ugly reef and up into the body of the wave. Looking straight down onto the bare cutting surface of the reef was frightening, no matter how many times he rode in just above it. Which wasn’t many. Dorrenbacher was exhilarated, not seeming to notice how often Darren choose to rest by treading water outside, until, following one monster wave at least eight feet high, he didn’t come back out at all.
Darren used the breaststroke to swim out and around the break, slipping inside the reef through one of its many openings. He saw Jimmy pushing shoreward against the side of the board. Changing to the crawl it didn’t take long to close the distance. His heart sank, as he got closer. It was immediately obvious why Jimmy was pushing the board instead of riding it. In one hand he held the last foot of the board to which the long skeg was attached. He’d hit the edge of the reef and broken the board riding the big wave.
“Oh no,” Darren gasped, taking a place next to Jimmy. “A new board is a hundred dollars or more. My God, what are we going to do?”
“Fix it,” Dorrenbacher replied, his eyebrows knit with intent as if he was in deep thought about the project instead of trying to get to shore.
“Fix a fiberglass board? With redwood running down the center? On what planet? In what life?” Darren couldn’t believe his friend, although a genius at repairing model airplanes and bicycles, could do anything with a fiberglass surfboard.
They hauled the board into the beach toward Diamond Head, distant from Kuhio Beach and inside Kapiolani Park where no surfers ever hung out.
“You stay with the board,” Jimmy instructed,
“I’ll get the car and pick you up. We’ll take it home and go to work.
It’ll cost us a couple of hours extra to keep it overnight but we need the time for the stuff to cure. Tomorrow morning, we take it back and try to slip it in,” Dorrenbacher went on, running off toward the hotel.
“Slip it in? Are you out of your mind? Cure it?” Darren whispered to himself, sitting with the board, wondering if Dorrenbacher had gone completely around the bend. If they had to pay a hundred dollars for the board it would deplete a huge chunk from his college savings.
A chunk he could never make up, and his father was certainly not going to either.
The ride back to Fort Ruger was without radio or talk. Once at Jimmy’s house, they hauled the two pieces of the board inside the garage, closing the door to prevent prying parental eyes. Tools, buckets, airplanes under repair, and different paints and glues littered the walls and work areas. No cars ever entered the garage. Dorrenbacher had taken over the space for his science experiments and mechanical projects many years earlier.
Jimmy cleared a space on the floor, laying down a piece of clean canvas, before setting the broken board gently upon it.
“Now we go to work. Hairdryer for the preliminary drying and heating. The epoxy sets faster and harder when warm. Then we re-work the damaged area for best adhesion, keeping what we can of the redwood strake. Bracing is important so we’ll use padded wood clamps. It’ll take half the night to set as dry as we need it. Then I’ll get up and do the sanding. By morning it’ll be ready for a clear coat or two, and then we’ll take it back.” Dorrenbacher’s work plan was laid out in rapid-fire detail as if he’d been arranging the whole thing in his mind on their silent ride home.
Darren marveled. The plan was impressive. It would never work, but it was most impressive. He couldn’t help but throw himself into it, knowing all along that the real problem they’d have was much better described by the three words Jimmy’d spoken earlier: “Slip it in.”
Darren worked until dinnertime and then took off with Dorrenbacher not seeming to notice his departure. The board was clamped, a one-gallon container of epoxy almost exhausted and two hairdryers burned up before he left.
Sunday morning was a required family breakfast event so Darren didn’t make it over to Dorrenbacher’s until ten. Each hour was another dollar on the rental so he ran the distance, jumping the fence to the base and then slipping straight into Jimmy’s garage. The board was standing against one wall, Jimmy next to it, smiling.
Darren stared down at the broken end, or what had been the broken end. The board appeared completely as before the accident, except the epoxy color was a gray off-white color while the board was a warm cream. Somehow the redwood strake appeared continuous.
“What do you think?” Jimmy asked, expecting high praise.
“You’re a genius,” Darren replied. “The board’s perfect, but we’ll never get it by them on the beach unseen. We can’t slip it in. We need something better. We need a story.” Darren sat on an overturned pail to think.
“What do you mean? What possible story can we tell except we took the board out and broke it and owe them hundreds of dollars?” Jimmy asked, taking another pail and joining his friend. “What else can we tell them? Someone else broke the board? It was broken when we got it? A meteor flew down and hit it?”
Darren stopped him with one upraised hand. “I’ve got it. We can’t deny anything. We did it. They’ll know we did it. My mom works at the hotel so they’ll know her and us. We have to admit it and then increase the value of the board so we don’t owe anything.”
“And people say I’m the crazy one,” Dorrenbacher said, more to himself than Darren.
“Do you have a heating iron, like to burn leather? It’s got to have a very sharp point and heat hot enough to melt resin?” Darren asked.
“Yeah, of course,” Jimmy answered. “Hell anything hot at all will melt resin. I’ll dig it out. What are you going to do with it?”
“I’ll be right back. I’ve got to run home. I’ve been studying something about surfing and I think I’ve got it. Find the iron and I’ll be back in fifteen minutes.” Darren took off without waiting for his friend to reply.
He was back in less than the time he’d allowed, out of breath. He took the iron out of Jimmy’s extended hand. “Okay brace the board on its side. I need it completely motionless. I’m going to burn near the skeg, by the work we did.”
Jimmy padded the floor, got the board down and then used his arms and shoulders to secure it to the floor. He asked no questions, merely staring at his friend in curiosity.
Darren worked away for ten minutes, consulting the slip of paper he’d brought from home. When he was done he sat back, put the iron down and got picked up some fine sandpaper. He sanded away, occasionally picking up some dust from the floor and rubbing it into the burned area he was working on.
“There, done.” Darren sat back. “Let’s go. The clock is running.”
“What were you burning?” Jimmy asked, but made no move to look at what Darren had done.
They padded the Corvair’s back seat as best they could, jammed the board in, and set off toward Waikiki. The radio played but they didn’t sing along this time.
They arrived at the rental station just before eleven. The main attendant spotted them coming and walked straight over.
“Little late. Almost called the police, but remembered your Mom works inside,” the big Haole man said.
As soon as he saw Darren’s expression however, he went on, “Don’t worry, I didn’t say anything.” The man examined the board. A frown appeared on his forehead.
“You break our board. You break board, you buy board. Three hundred for this special classic.” He knelt down and ran his hand over the repair. “Good job here. Strong. Smooth. You pay one-fifty and we keep the board. Still get a quarter an hour.”
“We found something when we fixed it. I’ll show you. We might want to keep the board and pay you the three hundred. I don’t know. Here, look at this.” Darren ran his fingers along the edge right near where they’d worked.
The attendant leaned further down, twisting his head sideways. “Duke Paoa Kahinu Mokoe Hulikhohola Kahanamoku,” he read slowly, his voice dropping to a whisper. “Duke Kahanamoku. I didn’t even know he had those other names.” The man stood up.
“Who’s Duke Kahanamoku?” Darren asked the man innocently.
“Never mind. You go. We even. You owe nothing. I keep the broken board. Your mom works here. No charge for you. Come next few days, I let you take out a couple of boards for free, just for fixing the board and coming back.” Without another word the man gripped the board under one arm and walked away.
“The Duke? You carved The Duke’s name into the side of the board? I can’t believe it. And you don’t know who The Duke is? Only the man who started surfing, that’s all.” He stared at Darren, his expression of surprise until he saw Darren start to smile.
“You devil, and he believed you. The Duke!”