Beyond the Palms, Hawai’i

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Not this year, but a few years ago, we entered the Kasbah of Hawai’i hipsters, circa 1970. No clue outside the low, white dwelling with palms-and-hibiscus yard. No clue in the blue-green lapping lagoon and fluffy white clouds above. But once we opened the door to our room, we entered a den of dusty delight. I’m laughing as I write this. Jam-packed. The glitz of compulsive collecting.

The bed was fine, sheets and towels too, but as we sat on the commode, there facing us was a bunny-hop child’s game at knee-level on a table also containing a Rubix cube, and a placard posing a mind-ball game challenge. As I  stood to wash, the soap entered my hand via a naked brass cupid, smirking and salacious. The soap lathered nicely.

Either side a Victorian bureau with long mirror stood huge dolls with long lashes and very red cheeks. The flapper wore ankle-strap pumps, sausage curls, and frilly dress. Her pal, a 1940s career gal sported in ankle socks and pumps and straw hat with off-kilter plume. Each wore a blessing of dust. Each doll’s face was quite mannish, minus the five o’clock shadow–our first clue that our hosts were gay.

Behind the dolls hung images of nuddish women wreathed in mist. Could these have been the front for a gay bordello, circa 1890?

The orange carpet was worn in places, the wallpaper covered in orange, pink and white stripes. Yet mostly hidden behind dark, maudlin art–old pensioners, dowager ladies in gossamer throws, a Hudson-River-School landscape, a Currier and Ives snowy scene, a seascape containing a rotting hulk, and a portrait of a prognathous young man in a Nazi uniform. My husband suggested he was the Nazi-loving American artist Marsden Hartley.

A small settee covered with a plaid blanket was crammed with needle-point pillows of fruits and vines. A den of moldering teddy bears slumped beside the bathroom door.

In another corner a table covered with nylon lace held a knock-off Tiffany lamp, a compote of plastic fruit, a wooden mountaineer whom I expected to be a nut-cracker but was actually offering a posy and adjusting his bows and arrows. Above a tiny chandelier anointed us all with wisps of dust.

Inside a mirrored cabinet wobble dolls held still, while above, strange faces with huge noses bent down to sniff us.

We couldn’t leave–there was nowhere else to stay the three night. Nor did we particularly want to. The hosts were kind and enjoyed displaying their wares–as we arrived the dining room table was studded with silver candelabra. But inside “our” room, with the door closed, something musty and unhealthy edged closer and closer, not to hurt us, but to absorb us into one of them.

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