Boarding Aloha Airlines


Tales from Hawaii:  Part 1

or, Tell your own Family Story

by Cathy Corcoran


Way back in time, the year after I graduated from college, I took off for Hawaii with my boyfriend.  He went to graduate school.  I didn’t get in.  The University was not impressed with the 2.3 average I managed to rack up as an undergrad.  


Released from the iron discipline of 12 years of Catholic school, I found myself drunk on the new freedom of college.  I went to class occasionally, in between marathon whist games in the caf, and attending weekend parties that started on Thursday and ended the following Tuesday. Thus, the 2.3 average.  


Oh well.  We were going to Hawaii anyway.  I’d take classes part time at the University of Hawaii, and I’d get a job.  We needed money, and Hawaii was a very expensive place to live.


I did get a job.  I got five jobs over the course of that crazy year, but the craziest of all was my job selling vinyl siding door-to-door.  


I answered an ad in the Honolulu Star Bulletin, one that said, “Make money on your own schedule.  High commissions for the right person. Free training.  Come in for an appointment.”


I dressed in a yellow and white floral minidress, and found the office of Hawaiian Improvement Corp in a little strip mall off Kalakaua Avenue.  As soon as I walked in, I could tell I had the job.  


“Great smile,” said my new boss, Kam Richards, a paunchy middle aged guy in a Hawaiian shirt, the top salesman at Hawaiian Improvement.  


Already I liked this place.  I could tell it was going to be a lot more fun that the job I had just had as a computer programmer at a boring high tech company downtown.  No one cared about my great smile there.


Kam told me I’d be working directly with him selling home improvement products to homeowners.  

“What kind of home improvement products?” I asked.

“Vinyl siding,” he said.  “There’s a tremendous need for it in this climate.”


The Hawaiian climate is perfect - warm, sunny and moist.  Everything thrives there - plants, animals, bugs, mold, fungus and wood rot.  Build a wooden house in Hawaii, and before you know it, you could wring water out of the walls.


This became part of the pitch I had to memorize under the tutelage of Kam Richards.  I learned about the differences between vinyl and aluminum. Aluminum gets pitted in the sea air, just as a cheap aluminum saucepan gets pitted on top of your stove.  Aluminum is also a great heat conductor - which is why they make saucepans out of it in the first place.  This means it makes your house hotter in the summer and cooler in heavy rains they have in the winter in Hawaii.  And if your house should happen to catch fire, the aluminum will help the fire spread by keeping things hot hot hot inside all that aluminum.


All this was fascinating stuff and a lot more fun than sitting at a desk writing computer code.  But the real curriculum was a book that Kam insisted I read called, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie.


Kam was embarrassed that he’d had to drop out of school in the ninth grade after his father ran off with a Samoan hula dancer.  He went to work and credited “How to Win Friends and Influence People” with his success in the Real World of home improvement sales.  

“You’ll learn more about people and success in life from this book than anywhere else,” he promised.


I did learn a lot - as it turned out, I learned more from Kam Richardson and Dale Carnegie than I did in the nighttime sociology classes I went to up at the University.


After my free training - reading Dale Carnegie, studying treatises on aluminum and vinyl, and learning the difference between mold and wood rot - we took our first trip out to Hawaii Kai, a neighborhood of low slung wooden houses that sat at the base of Diamond Head.


We circled the neighborhood in Kam’s old red Carmen Ghia.  

“See that yard?” he asked.  “Overgrown.  They don’t mow the lawn.  Broken shutter on that window.  That’s a rental.”

“Hmm,” I said.

“There!” he said, as he pulled to a stop in front of a well kept little white ranch house on Haaa Drive. 

“You’re on, kid,” he said.  It was my job to walk up that well kept driveway, knock on the door and get us into the house.


Do you want to know what happened next?


Gee, I hope so.  If you’ve read this far, you probably do want to know what happens next.


That’s the thing about telling a story.  It’s good to build interest with events like a strange job in an exotic location like Hawaii.  Throw in interesting characters like Kam Richards.  Try to build compassion for an airhead 21 year-old girl who gets into a Carmen Ghia with a strange middle aged guy, and season it with obscure facts about something like aluminum and vinyl.


This is how you capture the fascinating stories in your own family.


Come back next week and I’ll tell you what happened that afternoon on Haaa Drive in Hawaii Kai. 


This is called throwing a surprise into the narrative and building anticipation for what comes next.  Some might call it annoying the reader, but I don’t.  


I want you to come back next week.  I want you to start thinking about your own fascinating family stories, the odd characters, the strange facts, the things that make us all want to know what comes next.  I want you to write those stories down, or talk them into a camcorder. I want you to dig out those photos of you in that yellow and white minidress and show them around.  


Trust me, people will want to know what happens next.


Go to it!  And see you next week.