A Hilton Hawaiian Village Childhood

Memory is notoriously unstable.
It is a messy version of the truth, shaded by scents, music, films and TV shows, vague impressions. Memories are fluid and dreamlike.

How many times have you shared recollections with someone, only to realize that they remember the strange red-headed woman with a poodle, not the tall skinny guy with the cat?
And the truth is, they were both there that night.

So I was really happy to stumble on this old photograph. This is a Penthouse apartment at the Hilton Hawaiian Village on Waikiki. Now, for years I wondered if my memories about this beautiful resort were reliable. I was only about 5-years-old when my parents moved there. They were trying to reconcile after their trial separation. At the time, the Hilton Hawaiian Village also offered apartments for rent. As you can imagine, there was an unusual cast of characters.

One of my favorite Hilton Hawaiian Village residents was a larger-than-life guy from Iran named Benny. He made a living by selling his jewelry all over the world, carrying his collection of diamonds, rubies and emeralds in a black Gucci briefcase. I figure he must have been pretty successful, as he lived in a Penthouse apartment. When I saw this photograph I was astonished. This is exactly how I remembered it. Except his place was even more glamorous. Glittering crystal, Persian rugs, chandeliers.

I used to love going to his place when my parents were arguing. He’d make lamb and we’d eat off of fancy plates and I’d drink milk out of a silver goblet. But I was too small to reach the Penthouse button in the elevator, and too shy to ask anyone to do it for me. So Benny gave me a ruler. I felt very regal indeed, pushing that top button with it, raising my pinky finger for added effect. Sometimes I’d even wait until I saw someone else getting on the elevator before I got in, just so they’d see me with my cool ruler.

Dad’s poolside poker buddies were another source of amusement at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. They were a misfit gang of nut brown men with gold chains tangled in their greying chest hair. They’d smoke fat cigars, carry wads of cash in gold money clips and call each other “You fuckin’ turkey”. One of these guys was a Brooklyn-born bookie named Hooky. He’d make sandwiches for everyone. Including me. He had a gruff voice and he’d call out, “Hey kid. Get outta the pool and get your ass over here. I gotta sang-wich for you.”

Hooky’s sandwiches were excellent. They were the only way to get me out of that pool. Not only did I love swimming, but the bottom of the pool was decorated in multicolored astrological signs. So cool! It felt like my own planet under the water, swimming with the Scorpio, Pisces and Aquarius.

The scent of coconut oil, cigar smoke and chlorine; the sound of slack key guitar music and the Poker Gang telling dirty jokes about The Pope and Raquel Welch are some of my earliest childhood memories.

My parents split up again within a year. They were miserable. But oddly enough, that year at the Hilton Hawaiian Village was one of the happiest of my childhood.
As for my mother, it nearly wrecked her.

Perception of recollection is everything…


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