Madison and I continued our Playground Tour this morning by heading to Pearl City. In a kind of hazy memory, I seemed to recall kids playing on a halfway-decent playground set at Lehua Elementary. Well, when Madison and I arrived there, what we found managed to disappoint even my modest expectations. The playground was rusted over, worn, and looked like it might actually be dangerous. All it was missing was caution tape affixed to parts or all of it. I drove up Waimano Home Road and made a move for Waiau District Park. I was pretty sure it had a playground.
I went to Summer Fun at Waiau a long time ago. It made me kind of sad to see the place, actually. My memories of that place and time are 100% great, and I got a little nostalgic.
To be honest, I don’t even remember what prompted my mother to send Matty and me to Summer Fun here. I do know that it was one of the best “accidentally great” things to ever happen to me. I remember a lot of specific people, but not so much events. It’s understandable, I guess, I think I attended Summer Fun for three summers from 5th grade through 7th grade, then became a junior leader there. I think I would have kept doing that, too, but then right around that time, baseball got serious and started demanding my summers from me. I would eventually find my way back, however, as a leader at Pearl City District Park. I feel like I have to give my mom some credit for putting me on a path to meet my future wife. But I don’t think I will. It’s not like she knew what she was doing. She just didn’t want Matty and I to spend all summer watching TV, a luxury she would later afford Paul. The returns on that decision are mixed. On the one hand, he would become a high school valedictorian and a lawyer. On the other, Paul still records television shows on VHS tapes and watches three shows at once: two on two separate laptops and one on a traditional tv. I guess you make that deal every time, right, mom?
The playground’s in the same spot, but it’s not the same hardware. I remember there was a huge orange tube that smaller kids used to crawl through. Over time, the inside of it would become overrun with teenage professions of love, declarations that so-and-so “w/hea,” and gratuitous amounts of curse words for the sake of curse words. Back in my own Summer Fun days, 1 PM to 1:45 was reserved for “free play.” Kids could choose between playing on playground – the “apparatus” as they called it – playing board games in the rec center, or sham battle on the back field. Obviously, this explains why my knowledge of the playground and boardgames in general is so sparse. Aside: That stenciled graffiti on the red square is of Mickey Mouse’s face with the phrase “Join or Die” beneath it. Considering our impending trip, I took it as a good omen.
There used to be a swing set in this spot, but as everyone knows, swing sets are the devil so they’ve been hunted down and destroyed like the Jedi, smokers, and public phones. Anyway, I used to work those swings. I’d kick until I got so high that the chain would go slack when I hit my apex on the back swing, then I’d jump off as I reached the zenith on the other side. As kid, there was a moment when I wasn’t rising or falling – at least it felt that way – but the mere thought of even attempting something like that now is preposterous. What would shatter first? The chains or the bones in my legs? Too close to call. A couple of times, the bottom of my t-shirt got caught on the chain connected to the chair and instead of flying through the air, I was dragged back down to earth and got my ribs scraped up by that patch of dirt directly under the swings. There’s no point, I just felt like mentioning that.
The last time I was at Waiau, I noticed they cleared the brush which was adjacent to the rec center to create what looked like more soccer fields. I was very surprised today to find a basketball court with several hoops sitting in the fields’ place. I can’t even guess at how long the court’s been there. When I was in the 6th grade, I was the oldest kid I knew. I know that sounds stupid and impossible, but it was true. Anyway, the cool thing about the brush was that there were trails inside of it. They didn’t go very deep, maybe about 50 yards in, but it was the equivalent of secret passages in my head. You know my imagination. I remember that before the program started in the morning, I’d spend like 20 minutes in there just walking around. I actually took pride in memorizing the main routes. It was a pretty intricate network of paths that ran from openings near the rec center to clearings on the other side of the brush. There were signs of life as well – tarps, food containers/wrappers, etc. One of the kids suggested boar hunters, and at the time that seemed a decent suggestion. Now that I’m older I wonder if people were actually living there – I mean those paths could only have been created by consistent wear. I wonder if so many years later, that was part of the reason the City and County decided to tear it down, push it back, and develop it.
It seemed a lot bigger when I was a kid. I was too young to really know or care back then, but the thing odd thing about Waiau Summer Fun was that there wasn’t much to do, really. The rec center consists of a main room (pictured) which would be split into three areas and a bunch of other, smaller rooms that we weren’t allowed into. There’s no pool. There was no basketball court back then. We sat on the floor a lot. Granted, it was a long time ago, but looking back it seems so surreal. We had all the space in the world to play sports, but little room or resources for much else. My favorite “No Way That Happens Today” moment from my days at Waiau was a scavenger hunt the leaders ran one year. Basically, they planted clues on paper across the entire park. We were allowed to roam the park and chase the clues unsupervised. Basically, the leaders mixed the ages of the groups and set us off. I specifically remember the locations of two clues as the water tank on the west end of the park and the pay phone at the bottom near the bathroom. If I put Mad in a Summer Fun Program and I found out they did anything remotely close to this, I’d be fucking livid. It’s the world we live in, I guess.
I know it’s difficult to make out from this picture, but there’s a little decline, then a leveling off before a steep decline down to the main field below. Were I as clever then as I am now, I would have called this area “Lovers’ Ledge” because sitting there put one out of the sight of the leaders (who would have to walk down to check). One might be able to engage in several activities such as holding hands (with fingers interlocked) and *ahem* kissing (with tongues). Well, that’s what I heard, anyway.
This was the lunch area for the oldest group of kids. It’s the last place I remember eating lunch. When I told Madison that information, she asked about the chairs and tables. I told her we sat on the ground and ate our lunches without washing our hands or using hand sanitizer. She reacted as if that was the most incredible thing she had ever heard. Maybe it is. I am only 33 and at times I feel so old, not necessarily because of that number or how I feel, but instead because of the times I’ve lived through. I mean I grew up pre-internet, pre-cell phone, but then went to college as telecommunications took off. I was young enough to catch on to the technology and grow with it, and it feels normal. What did I do with myself before my smartphone? In something that’s not really related, one of my last memories with Papa Joe was a conversation that I had with him. I had an epiphany along the lines of what I’ve just written. I asked him what it was like to live through so many incredible moments. Because he was a simple, soft-spoken man, he answered with the following (paraphrasing from memory): I don’t know. I remember where I was when some of them were happening, but I wasn’t in the middle of a lot of it. I had to wait for it to trickle down to me. When I expressed mild shock at his seeming lack of interest or excitement, he schooled me for what I didn’t know would be the final time (which, I suppose, makes his point): Well, Philip, no one knows what anything means until years later. He returned to his work. I’ll never be sure – and it wasn’t Papa Joe’s way to imply or use subtext when he spoke – but I feel like he was trying to tell me that those things weren’t important to him. His work was. Always. My Papa Joe was a great man in many ways, and I’ve thought about this sporadically since his death and I’ve come to a kind of conclusion about him. I don’t want this to come off the wrong way, but I think the greatest lesson he imparted upon me came from his own failing. The way he lived his life taught me the importance of balance in my own life, of trying to find a way to take care of my work and my family and the things that bring me joy.
I figured I’d end this entry the way we used to end just about every day at Summer Fun. This patchy, uneven parcel of land is where the most epic sham-battle…battles took place. I’ve spent a lot of time writing about my love of the game and all of its variations, so I won’t do that here. When I walked around and through the rec center, looking out on this field brought the biggest smile to my face. Obviously, this is where I have the most vivid and best memories. My friend (and a Hall of Fame sham-battler ) lived on the road just above this field. My first serious girlfriend lived up the road (walking distance back then, when motivated by hormones, completely out of the question now). We didn’t get together then, but we met at Waiau when we were 6th graders (I think. It’s crazy. This little public park in the middle of Pearl City was such a huge part of my childhood. Sadly, that doesn’t mean as much as it used to. I wonder how I will feel in a week when I return to LMU.