Bikini Days in Hawaii

Tales from Hawaii:  Part 2

or Tell Your Own Family Story

by Cathy Corcoran




So there I was, walking up the driveway of the little house on Haaa Drive.

What a crazy name that was!  How the heck did you pronounce that?


I must confess I was a little nervous.  I got even more nervous as I watched Kam drive slowly off in his little red Carmen Ghia.  I was on my own.


A tiny woman in a blue flowered dress answered the door.  Her long dark hair fell around her shoulders, and she held a two year-old on her hip.  

“Hi,” I said.  “I’m doing a survey in the neighborhood and I’m not sure how you pronounce the name of your street.”

“Ha’a’a,” she said.  It sounded like she was laughing.

“Ha’a’a,” I said, and I actually did laugh.  The woman laughed too.


This was right out of the Dale Carnegie book that Kam had insisted I read.  Break the ice, make a connection.    Get them laughing.  


“Could I ask you and your husband a few questions?” I asked.

She hesitated.  “Ha’a’a,” I said again.  It was impossible not to laugh.  

The woman laughed along with me and opened the door wider.  Her husband appeared in the hall behind her.

“Come in,” she said.


Before she could get the door closed behind me, Kam pulled up at the curb.

“My partner,” I said, as he jumped out of the Carmen Ghia with a big green suitcase full of vinyl siding props.         In we went.


A couple of hours later, we left Mr. and Mrs. Tanaka’s house on Haaa Drive with a $3000 order for vinyl siding. I was astounded.  It was so easy!


Kam opened our green suitcase while I talked with the Tanakas about what a pain it was to paint a wooden house every couple of years.  When it was time to demonstrate wood rot, Kam handed me the piece of soggy wood.  When I was ready to discuss aluminum and vinyl, Kam handed me the props with the ease of an operating room nurse assisting a surgeon.  


By the time I had poured muriatic acid on the piece of aluminum and we all watched it burn through the metal, I could tell that the Tanakas were just dying to cover the outside of their little ranch house with vinyl.


“Just give me your okay. here,” Kam said, sliding the papers across the Tanaka’s coffee table.  

“Don’t say anything about a signature,” Kam had advised me in our training sessions.  “And never say, ‘sign here.’  Just ask for their okay.” 




The Tanakas signed - I mean, okayed - the papers and Kam packed the wood and aluminum and vinyl back into the green suitcase.  


When we got back to Waikiki, Kam peeled off fifteen $20 bills from a roll in his pocket.  “Your commission,” he said.  “Good job.”


$300 was a lot of money to me back in those days.  I was flushed with excitement.  I was going to be rich!


But when I went back to work the following day, only the secretary was in the office.

“Where’s Kam?” I asked her.

“Not here,” she said.  A cigarette dangled from her lower lip.  “You won’t see him for a couple of days,” she said.

“Why not?” I asked.  

“Sit tight,” she said.  “Take a few days off.  Go to the beach.  He’ll call you.”


I didn’t see Kam for a week.  Turns out he’d gone off on a toot after our big sale.  

“I’m broke,” he said when he finally called me a week later.  “Let’s go back to work.”


I lasted about four months as an associate salesperson with Hawaiian Improvement Corp.  Kam and I did very well together.  When I could get us into a house, we closed two out of three sales.  I got periodic infusions of cash, but every time we sold some siding, Kam disappeared and drank up his share of the earnings.


Unlike the high-flying sociology theory I was studying in my night classes up at the University of Hawaii, I learned some real life lessons from my time with Kam:


  • •Warmth and moisture are ideal conditions for the growth of wood rot.  Throw in a few million termites and some mold, and you can see why so many buildings in Hawaii are made of concrete instead of wood.

  • •Prospecting is the key to sales.  No sense knocking on the door of a stucco house if you’re trying to sell vinyl.  Find the house that needs painting, that shows some wood rot, that’s occupied by a conscientious homeowner who wants to do the right thing.

  • •Most people will welcome you with a smile if you send a smile out to them.  Get them talking, get them laughing.  The rest is easy.

  • •Try not to work for an active alcoholic if you can.  Though Kam was a good guy at heart and lots of fun, it just got too crazy trying to figure out when I’d see him again.

  • •Don’t ride around at night in a little red sports car with a married man.  I learned this lesson the night Kam’s 25 year-old wife followed Kam and me out to Hawaii Kai and threatened to slash his tires right there on Haaa Drive. God knows what she would have done with me.   

  • Kam was way too old for me, there was nothing going on between us but wood rot and vinyl,  and I had a perfectly nice boyfriend back in Waikiki, but Leilani wasn’t buying any of that.  She was out for blood.


But that’s another story.


See how one story leads to another?   And another?


When you’re doing your family stories, you’ll never really be sure just what you’ll get.  Be prepared for surprises - who’d guess that I, a straight-looking middle-aged Hingham woman - had a past that included vinyl siding, little red sports cars and married Hawaiian men?


Your grandmother may have an old boyfriend that no one ever talked about.

Your mother may have a secret that she’s finally ready to let out of the bag.


You can get those stories by using a few of the lessons I learned from Kam:


  • •Prospecting is the key.  Start with a family member who wants to talk.  Most older people are full of great stories and the younger folks - including us! - often don’t think they have time to listen.

  • •Warmth and kindness are the ideal conditions for good stories.  Get them talking, get them laughing.  The rest is easy

  • •Most people will welcome you with a smile if you send a smile out to them.

  • •If you’re interviewing an active alcoholic, do it in the morning before they get into the sauce.


Be there with your camcorder, get them talking, and get it all down.  


Oh yeah, and don’t ride around at night in a little red sports car with a married man.