When I was a chubby, tan little blonde kid running barefoot in Hawaii, my babysitter was a Filipino lounge singer named Kai Cauton. He was married to a very glamorous woman named Lillian and lived with two rhinestone collared poodles in the apartment upstairs from us on Kuhio street. My parents had split up, and we had left the Hilton Hawaiian Village. I was sad to leave behind Dad’s poker buddies at the pool and Benny in his glittering penthouse apartment, but Lillian and Kai quickly became a big part of our lives.
Lillian wasn’t too keen on me. She’d say to my mom in her “faux-French accent” (Mom was convinced she wasn’t actually French) “Kaisa, I’ll take Saara out for a walk if you buy her some ruffly socks and a little pink dress. The way you dress her makes her look like a little lesbian.”
As my standard wardrobe of overalls and plain cotton rompers never changed, we never went for walks.
But Kai Cauton loved me no matter what. He’d take me fishing and we’d go for picnics on the beach. Other times we’d go snorkeling at Hanauma Bay; amazed at the colorful fish darting in and out of the coral reef.
But what I liked best were Disco Nights.
Mom and Lillian would tell me to take a Disco Nap. This was really the best way to get me to take a nap, as it sounded much more exciting.
Then in the evening, I’d watch my mom turn into a Disco Queen; mesmerized as she slid into her slinky satin clothes, applied shimmering eye make up and lip gloss. She’d spritz a little Cie perfume and slather cocoa butter body cream on her toned legs.
Lillian took even longer to get ready than my mom, painting her long nails, adjusting her halter dress and drawing in her eyebrows with great precision.
Then they’d have a glass of wine or two as Lillian would recount what her psychologist said during their weekly session:
“Kaisa, he said my husband Kai is grinding me like a meat grinder!”
“Kaisa, he’s squeezing me like a lemon!”
For whatever reason, all his advice seemed to be laden with food references. After a while, Mom started to wonder if Lillian’s shrink was actually a frustrated chef.
But when these two shiny, sexy women were done with their day to night transformation and emboldened by a couple glasses of cheap Chablis, they’d deliver me to Kai. He’d begin his babysitting duties as they hit all the Honolulu hotspots.
Now, Kai Cauton made his living working as a lounge singer in the more touristy nightclubs of Waikiki. So he’d bring me along with his acoustic guitar to whichever club he played. I’d sit there drinking virgin Pina Coladas, enchanted by the glowing candles on the tables and the chatter of sunburnt tourists. I loved thinking about how all these people had come here from someplace else. They came from a place us locals called, “The Mainland”.
In my mind, these people made the long trip to our island just to see my friend Kai Cauton. He played songs like Billy Joel’s “Just The Way You Are” and Lionel Richie’s “Once, Twice, Three Times A Lady”. People clapped and slow danced. Some of the older couples just held each other close, sitting in their vinyl booths, the air smelling of the pretty plumeria leis they were wearing.
I loved Kai, and I loved how his music made everyone so happy. It was magical to me. So when I turned 7, I got the coolest gift of all. No, it wasn’t this pink dress that Lillian bought me out of sheer aggravation over my lesbianic wardrobe. It was the gift of Kai Cauton playing some songs for my friends and I at my birthday party. This man who all these Mainland tourists traveled for miles and miles just to see, this man actually came to play for me…