Peer Ratings and Mid-Selection
Mid selection was coming in that beautiful land, and before it arrived, I was fairly certain I would be one of the de-selectees. I was also fairly certain McCreary would be. Neither of us fit in. We weren’t much like the others I thought would be deselected, but we were different. We’d been through the Minnesota Multi-Phased Personality Test. The rumor was you couldn’t even lie consistently on that one, except they could sniff you out, flush you like quail in the cool dawn. I knew I was doomed.
The morning before selection time the staff added the final horror. Humiliation and forced betrayal. Peer ratings.
Question: Here is a list of your fellow trainees. Top to bottom, list the people you consider most equipped for the task of peace corpsman, down to least favorable. Top to bottom, who do you like the most. Down to who you like the least. And so on. Sell your young souls, trainees; young Americans…..won’t accept the papers back until you’ve listed them all, every white space above a black line filled with a name of someone here around you.
I was angry, watching 80 eyes probe the room, checking names against faces. I worked out my own strategy, locking eyes, whenever I could. I reversed the list they wanted. Picked the weakest and least liked for my Ajax and Penelope. Threw the leaders to the dogs. With my own name at the pinnacle, of course. But I knew it was futile.
De-selection and Jumping Ship in Honolulu
Still, I was crushed when my name came out on the list of get-outs. I didn’t notice how the others reacted, and I don’t remember much about the time between the boot and the airplane. I do know that somewhere in there, I decided I wasn’t going back to the mainland. Somewhere in there David also decided something similar.
The rain was falling sideways when we got off the plane in Honolulu. Big Joe Weiss, Korean War marine was with us on the plane to Oahu. He listened to our dreams talked quietly of staying in the islands with us. He was as crushed as I was about being given the shove. But in the terminal building, he couldn’t look at either of us as he told us he was going on to the mainland. I could see that big Joe was limping inside, hurting. Maybe worse than I was, with all my bravado.
David and I had some kind of notion about catching a sailing boat, heading for Australia or New Zealand. We had a couple of hundred bucks each, guts, energy, and no promises to keep. We’d signed on for a two year stint in Injia, and Injia had belched us back like a bolus flying out the mouth of someone who’s just had the Heimlich performed unexpectedly in the middle of a dying incident.
We spent a few precious bucks on a taxicab…..told the driver we wanted the cheapest hotel he knew of. It was the Huna Hotel, he took us to. Twelve bucks a night. But we were young in that country.
The rain continued through the night, and we emerged from the room still full of energy and bravado….we were taking big steps, making deep tracks in our future lives…..we thought we were about to make big tracks on the land.
Picked up a newspaper looking for boarding houses……David found one belonging to a Japanese lady named Matsushige….he wrote down the address as I looked over his shoulder….wrote on the classified page of the newspaper…..2323 East Manoa Road.
We took a city bus, carrying our bags, our belongings from the dead peace corps experience, and got off at the confluence of east Manoa and Manoa. The driver pointed a direction for us.
But at 2323, our knock was answered by a man who appeared to be dressed in a pair of WWII Japanese uniform trousers. He explained curtly that he didn’t know what the hell we wanted, didn’t want to know. Didn’t appreciate our disturbing his home, his morning. We walked to Manoa and looked….nothing made any sense.
So, we found a pay phone and David called the number from earlier…..wrote 2319 on the newspaper. Hung up the phone, turned puzzled from the booth. “Twenty twee twenty twee?” I burst out in laughter every time I thought of that incident for more than three decades. I can still see him turning puzzled from the booth, frowning, “Twenty twee twenty twee?”
Matsushige’s Boarding House, Finding Work and a Gypsy Good Time
We settled in at Matsushige’s that day, a second floor room with two bunks, 4 feet or so apart, parallel, a desk between the two at the head. Shared john with some other roomers….settled in young, full of bravado, full of dreams.
Next day we went looking for work and such. David took a paper and headed down to check out the openings on Waikiki…..I headed for the bars on hotel street, looking for a job or a hooker to fix me up for my job search. I’d go down to Waikiki tomorrow to find my busboy job at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. Today, more pressing matters.
In a while, I came to a booth with a pretty gypsy lady…..started flirting a bit, talking around the issue. Was pretty certain she was a hooker. Finally, “You want a gypsy good-time?” she demanded.
“Yeah! A gypsy goodtime!”
She took me into an attached room with nothing but a cot, sat me down. “$10″….she took my money and assured she’d be back in a moment. I sat there and knew when she brought in a snaggle toothed crone that I’d just lost a sawbuck for another of my lessons in life.
“Here it is! A gypsy goodtime!” She and the crone danced back and forth in front of me, all of us laughing. My life has been rich in gypsy goodtimes, I’ve been a man wealthy in gypsy goodtimes, but that one was best in those times when the coconuts fell beside us and mangos piled high under the trees blocking the sidewalks and David and I grumbled in our cots picking off sunburned skin to throw to the giant roaches. We were young in that country.
Final Selection – Dropouts and Volunteers – Honolulu
We stayed in touch with a few of the trainees on the big island. Lillie and I wrote and sometimes talked by phone. We made plans, after final selection to meet in Oahu, whether she went on to India or not. Nancy Philson and Priscilla Thomas came through a few days ahead, voluntarily dropped from the venture. An evening of drunken revelry on hotel street and they were off to the future.
I met Lillie at the airport with the other triumphant survivors. Chianti, baby gouda cheese, and a rented jeep, and we made long and easy love on the beaches in sight of Chinamans Hat, Hanauma Bay, the blowhole, toward the end, pounding surf spraying the moonlight. Her red hair tickled my face as we idled the jeep down the inland spine of Oahu, back to Honolulu.
Next night, the gin mills of Honolulu and Hotel Street. Lillie’d never seen a stripper….I took her to a place I’d been a few nights previously with Nancy and Priscilla. The best I’d ever seen, her veils of blue velvet, blue chiffon.
They boarded the plane, and India X was off to save the world from hunger, from savage restraints, from a historic dearth of fowl in their diets. Off to Gujarat.
Back to the Big Island – The Jungle and Solitude
In a while, I flew back to the big island and went into the jungle off the Kohala range, thinking to become a hermit, thinking to die there. David met a Japanese Hawaiian girl named Janice and flew back to the mainland with her.
In six weeks I came out of the jungle, in a maelstrom of roiling greyblue clouds. I’d met myself for the first time. I finally had seen myself, seen god in that quiet forest. I knew I had more to do.
David’s kids, when he was in the marine corps, and after came to be among my favorite children….Janice, an object of my deep respect.
This year, she left him for a Japanese man. David’s in Seattle, trying to find what he should do with his life, henceforth. Searching for the greatest gypsy good-time of them all.
And I await the moment I’ll go again into the woods as I did so many years ago beneath a savage sky in that country of youth and springtime.
“Life’s a strange place for a human being to have to spend a lifetime.” Josephus Minimus