BITS and PIECES # 31

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June 22, 2013 by palamow

BITS and PIECES # 31

Hello again from Luquillo,

Here’s a frivolous incident from my earlier days — wrapped tightly around a noble story of a wonderful friend’s great accomplishments achieved despite very heavy odds…

I hope you find it both entertaining and thought provoking…

MORIO AND THE PINEAPPLES

On a sunny Monday morning, as I sat at my desk at the Hale Makai building in Honolulu, draining the last of my mid-morning coffee, my phone rang — it was Dr. Morio Asato, calling from Los Angeles International Airport — he was about to board a United Airlines flight to Hawaii, and wondered if I could pick him up on his arrival at the Honolulu airport — he would stay overnight before catching an ongoing Pan American Airways military charter flight to Okinawa.  I quickly agreed, jotted down his flight number and arrival time and invited him to dine that evening with me and my family, and stay overnight at our Ewa Beach home…

It was 1962. Back then as I recall, Honolulu’s airport was still a randomly eclectic collection of WW II era Quonset huts, wooden structures and sagging, corrugated metal hangars — no soaring, impersonal concrete structures, no air-conditioned jet ways, and no long, shiny corridors populated with upscale fast-food outlets and boutique shops. In short, it still retained the easy-going, laid-back character and unique flavor befitting an airport on a romantic tropical Pacific Ocean island. Arriving flights (often still ‘prop-jobs back then) would taxi-up to a position near the large, weathered, tin-roofed main terminal building  and shut-down their engines — weary passengers would climb carefully down the wobbly aluminum boarding stairs that had been rolled-up to the passenger door. As soon as their feet touched the ground they would be surrounded by lovely island ‘Wahines’, clothed in colorful, orchid-patterned ‘Mu-mu’ dresses, who would greet each passenger with a soft ‘Aloha’ and then place the traditional flower-garland ‘lei’ around each tired neck — it was impossible not to relax and smile when receiving such a welcome….

I watched Morio as he strode purposefully down the stairs and across the tarmac — he didn’t look tired at all — he looked exuberant and expectant — he was a native Hawaiian, although you would never have suspected this fact — he was clad in a conservative, single-breasted black suit, white shirt and red bow-tie — horn-rimmed glasses added to his studious, professorial demeanor, heightened further by the ‘salt and pepper’ of his graying temples. He was still smiling as he reached me, greeting me effusively, while turning-down the offer of a flower lei from a pretty tourism employee, whispering softly into her ear “Maholo, sistah’, save da-kine’ for ‘haole’ tourists — I born here”. She giggled shyly, kissed him on the cheek and swiftly turned to find a more suitable candidate for her garland largesse…

We waited in the morning heat, cooled by occasional tendrils of breeze off the ocean, while the baggage truck slowly trundled toward the open-air baggage area adjacent to the terminal building — when the baggage had been deployed in semi-organized heaps; we joined the recently deplaned passengers, rooting through the piles until we exposed Morio’s battered leather Valpak. When we reached my Corvair station wagon parked across the street, I opened the tailgate and Morio carelessly swung his single piece of luggage into the back…

Morio Asato and I were colleagues — He was an industrial psychologist — a PhD and a renowned ‘diplomate’ of the American Psychological Association. I was a young electronic systems engineer — we were both employed at the System Development Corporation, a West Los Angeles ‘Think-tank’ spinoff of the nearby parent RAND Corporation…

We frequently encountered one another in the halls, at meetings or, during lunch breaks at commons-room seminars on subjects of interest to us both. We weren’t close friends — more like friendly associates with similar interests. Like many such casual relationships, we had a vague idea of each other’s educational achievements and a fairly clear understanding of each other’s professional labors…

When, I was offered the position of senior systems engineer in the corporation’s Hawaii field office, I jumped at the chance, and soon I was moving my rapidly expanding family (wife and two toddlers) to Honolulu. After a year, I was firmly engaged in my work and equally enchanted by my stunning island surroundings — we had recently moved from an apartment near the polo grounds in Honolulu to a charmingly rustic home west of the city in Ewa Beach, which had the added benefit of being directly across Pearl Harbor from my office at Hickam Air Force Base — which meant that, I could drive to work along a road which wound through a succession of pineapple plantations, or, if I wished, I could save a half hour’s driving time and commute by water using the U.S. Navy’s motor-whaleboat launch service that departed regularly from a dock only a short walk from my home — a tropical paradise, indeed.

As we pulled away from the airport, Morio quickly rolled down his window, gazing out to quietly reacquaint himself with the sights, smells and sounds of his island birthplace. He was breathing deeply while peering closely at every facet of the passing scene. Finally, turning to me, he breathed softly “its fine to be home again, brudda”. Recalling his usual precise, professional manner of speaking at the home office, I wondered at his effortless return to the more colorful Hawaiian patois. Within a few minutes, we were heading west, passing between endless fields of pineapple. Suddenly, without preamble, Morio blurted “Turn mauka at that crossroad up ahead and then pull-ova’ to the side quick-like ‘brudda”. Not knowing what to expect, but having lived on the island long enroute to be aware that ‘mauka’ meant toward the mountains, I did as I was told, and soon we were parked on a dusty embankment at the edge of a pineapple field. Wasting no time, Morio jumped from the car, whipped off his suit jacket and tie, turned-up the cuffs of his suit pants, and ran into a dusty row of pineapple plants — as he ran, he shouted over his shoulder “Move it Brudda, we gonna grab-us some pineapples”.  I followed him dubiously (two corporate technologists in business attire, pilfering pineapples — in broad daylight?), but I soon entered into the spirit of the moment, and shucking my seersucker jacket and rolling-up my pants, I rushed after him.  Pausing, Morio appraised the nearest plants with a practiced eye, selected three fruits that appealed to him, plucked them skillfully from their plants and, pulling out his shirttail, dropped-in the plump fruits — exhorting me to do the same, he quickly picked a few more and threw them to me…

Running for the car, he shouted “Run Brudda, before we get in big trouble!” — I ran…

Regaining the car, we threw in our juicy plunder and with tires screeching, we u-turned back to the main road, laughing, tears running down our faces as we raced excitedly onward to Ewa beach and home…

As we dumped our succulent swag on the kitchen table, my wife Eileen welcomed Morio with a hug and a kiss on the cheek, while gazing at our spoils and our dirt-stained clothes with a jaundiced eye, sighing “Boys will be boys” under her breath. As she carefully washed each fruit in the kitchen sink, she muttered absently over her shoulder “Its best to wash the chemicals off these fruits before handling them, to avoid problems” (an extremely prescient observation, as it turned out later), then, she cut-up the two largest ones to have with dinner…

After we finished dinner and the dishes were washed and put away, Morio said goodnight to our children Michael and Lisa as they prepared to toddle-off to bed, and we adults moved out to the Lanai to sip Hawaiian coffee while we watched the sun sink into the ocean — a spectacular island light-show as always…

Curious, I asked Morio to tell us about his upbringing in Honolulu, and how he had come to move to the mainland. He smiled and said “I was a very bad boy — always In big trouble — what you ‘Haoles’ call a ‘Dead-end Kid’ — when I was 18, I stole a car for a joyride with some bad boy friends — didn’t get very far before the police nabbed me — at the arraignment hearing the next day, the judge looked over my record — then looked down at me over his glasses, and said “Morio my boy, you got two choices — jail, or the Army — which will it be?”

We listened raptly as he continued “Naturally, I went for choice number two and joined the Army — I was inducted into the Hawaiian National Guard as a member of the 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate) which was the first U.S. Army unit of Japanese Americans activated in World War II. We soon found ourselves on a ship bound for the mainland  — when we reached San Francisco, we were put on a troop-train that took us to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin where we trained for a few weeks, and then on to Camp Shelby. Mississippi for combat training. In a few weeks the battalion was put on a ship bound for North Africa, but instead, we ended up in Salerno, Italy, where we were merged with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team — we fought all the way from Italy to the Ardennes before the war ended.”

“After I was discharged in New York, I decided to use the GI Bill and go to college — I worked bussing tables and mopping floors in Chinese restaurants to make ends meet and finally got a baccalaureate degree in psychology at Columbia –and went on to get a masters and then a doctorate in industrial psych”…

An astonishing success story — Morio made it all sound so simple — but of course it wasn’t simple at all — besides glossing-over the horrors of combat that he experienced across hundreds of miles during scores of battles against a relentless enemy, he never mentioned the often hostile racism, internment and other demeaning degradations that he and other loyal Japanese Americans faced with such nobility back then — and he never alluded to the difficulties he must have encountered after the war, as an ‘island boy’ striving to assimilate into an unfamiliar culture in New York, while laboring unflaggingly to get a formal education — I was in awe of him then, and I still am…

The next morning, we arose early and took the Navy launch across Pearl Harbor to the office — since Hickam Field and Honolulu airport shared the same airstrip, Morio easily secured an Air Force car and driver to deliver him to his ongoing Pan Am flight to Okinawa — we said our goodbyes and made plans to see each other again when he stopped-over on his way home to Los Angeles later that month…

As I sat at my desk that afternoon, I began to feel flushed and my arms and chest began to itch and burn furiously — I went to the washroom, pulled-up my shirt and discovered to my horror that my arms and chest were almost covered with dime-sized, angry pink sores that itched like mad!  I refastened my shirt, ran back to the office, and grabbed my jacket and briefcase — my colleague Dave Rochlen graciously offered to take me to see his friend Dr. Jack Shigeta, a dermatologist in downtown Honolulu…

When the doctor finished examining my chest and arms, he smiled ruefully, looked at me and said “Which field did you steal the pineapples from?” I stammered guiltily “How did you know?”  He replied “Those eruptions on your chest and arms are known as ‘pityriasis rosea’ — folks like you with sensitive white skin are often affected by coming in contact with the chemicals sprayed on pineapple fields — it was no great leap to figure-out what caused your lesions!”

“What can you do to cure me and stop the itching” I pleaded.  “Not much” he replied – “I could prescribe special soaps and creams, but they seldom work very well — I’m afraid you’ll just have to let it run its course — three or four weeks at most should do it — and you’ll probably only have a minimum of residual scarring after its gone.”

A week or so later, Morio dropped by my office on his way back to the states — I boldly revealed my ‘Technicolor’ afflictions, and wondered aloud why he hadn’t also been affected. He looked at me sadly, and said “When I was a young boy, my family and I worked as pickers in the Dole Company’s pineapple fields — I guess we became immune after a while.”

Alas, a combination of innocence abroad and the wages of sin had conspired to bring me to my knees…

© 2013 – Alan Mowbray Jr.

 

 

 

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