Sunday, December 6, 2009


BIG ISLAND, HAWAII. December 13, 2009. I’ve always liked frequenting juke-joints, a southern hyphenated term and a southern phenomenon -- especially along the Mississippi River and its tributaries.

Once I worked with Penny Rotheiser in New Orleans. She was promotion director for the Phil Donahue Show based at that time in Chicago. Being born and raised in the Northern suburbs of Chicago, she had never visited a Juke-Joint. Penny begged me to escort her to a New Orleans Juke-Joint.

I said, “I’m not sure you’re the type who would enjoy it.”

She persevered and I relented and took her on a Friday night to a particularly nasty, avaricious, and enjoyable “fish fry.”

Penny was stunned silent at the spectacle. As we walked back to our hotel, she said, “I really loved it. Thank you for showing me something wonderful my Jewish mother never knew anything about.“ She later inscribed those exact two sentences in a book she sent to me that Donahue wrote. Donahue also signed the book, “For Russ, my fellow river rat.”

But one of the greatest joints I ever frequented was, oddly enough, a floating one in Hawaii in 1990 after I first moved to Washington.

My “girl” friend at the time was Sharon Strover, a tenured professor at the University of Texas, a Stanford PhD, and a good-looking blond from Appleton, Wisconsin, a soulmate, a love. Although I bought a chess set once and beat her on our first game together, and so she refused to play me again.

Anyway she and I met up on the Kona Coast, the Big Island. Now Sharon got it in her head that we should take this late night boat cruise out into the Pacific Ocean. I thought, “Well, it would be kind of romantic to go to sea in Hawaii.? But I didn’t have any idea what was in store for me.

The bell rings for boarding, the whistle blows three times, the signal for casting off. We are ushered into this hall with stage and dance floor. A musical band of native Hawaiians promptly begins to smoke and rock. A group of stunning Polynesian women come out and begin to dance the hula in grass skirts.

What impressed me was the tender humor, actually a sort of kind humor and tolerance for the human condition, that was expressed by means of the seduction of their dance.

Well, it wasn’t any more than two minutes after they started dancing, that one of the hula dancers motioned toward me, beckoning me to come up on stage. I thought, “Jeez, I haven’t been on this boat for more than five minutes, haven’t even seen the ocean yet, and I’m about to be made a spectacle of.

But when a beauty calls, do you refuse?

I went up on stage to become a fool along with the rest of humanity. The other hula dancers left the stage and only the beckoning women stayed. She began to unbutton my shirt. She leaned very close and whispered in my ear,

“Where you from?”

“Washington, DC,” I answered.

“So far away,” she protested. She continued to undress me. She whispered very tenderly, pausing momentarily, looking me straight with her twinkling dark eyes,

“Is this okay?”

“Yes, it’s okay.”

She undressed me down to my drawers which isn’t such a bizarre outfit in Hawaii -- pretty much like wearing a bathing suit. Screams of pleasure from the audience -- whistling, hooting, howling, etc. Then she teaches me the hula. It’s different moves for men than for women. Much absurd and bombastic pounding of the chest and thighs as the women rotates their hips and move their hands all in that seductive, sensitive, tender and humorous way.

The ordeal ended, and then a bunch of Polynesian men came out, dressed pretty much as I’d been, and a poor woman from somewhere in Iowa had to go though the same experience with one of those hula guys.

Next day, I traveled to the City of Refuge on Hawaii’s big island, fast by the Kona coast. That place is no juke-joint. Dedicated to several “pagan” gods, it also reflects a concept and places described in the Hebrew Bible. If you commit a crime, intentionally or unintentionally, and if you can swim, walk, fly, or canoe to the City of Refuge, you are protected by the priesthood from revenge. I found the place serene. The atmosphere is quiet and holy.

Copyright (c) Russ Barnes 2009. Bethesda Maryland.

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