My husband asked me for one gift from my writing residency in Hawai'i. The only thing he wanted was a cotton Aloha shirt from a thrift shop. Problem is, everyone else on the Big Island must have wanted one of those. They were hard to find.
I went into the thrift in Punalu'u, and asked for Aloha shirts in a Large. "I have some in my car," a nice lady said. "I'll bring them over to the shop one day soon."
"I have an idea," I said. "Why don't we go to your car and get those shirts right now!"
"My car's at the shop up the hill," she said.
"Let's walk up there," I said.
"Okay," she smiled. So we walked up the hill in a light rain to the auto body shop.
"Your car is up," the mechanic said, pointing upward to the auto, which was on the lift having its oil changed.
"We need you to bring the car down," I said, calmly. "Now."
He looked at me and then went over to the machine and brought the car down. The nice lady whom I was bullying pulled a bag of shirts out of the back seat. Faded, size Large men's Aloha shirts. Perfect!
"I'll give you twenty bucks," I said.
"No way," she said, "that's too much." So I gave her a ten for four shirts. She was happy.
"I'm a writer," I said. "So am I!" she beamed. (Everyone on the Big Island is a writer.)
Her book was on releasing your inner divinity and blah blah blah. Mine was on the erotic deliciousness of everything on the Big Island including the lilliko'i donuts (passionfruit, served up by a bronzed Hawaiian surfer).
We walked back to the thrift shop together and hugged goodbye like long-lost sisters.
No one on the Big Island hurries, no one says "Do it now." Acting like a New Yorker on the island was a huge no-no. When I told my host what I had done, she begged me to tell her that I had not divulged my address (her house.)
Lou loved the shirts but they were too small. He is giving them to a colleague. Hedging my bets, I had I secretly bought him a bigger one at the airport gift shop and told him it was used. What? Now you're going to blackmail me by telling Lou his shirt is new?
Bad manners are a matter of context. It often does not work to act like a New Yorker anywhere else in the world. You will be considered a bitch. You will get into fender-benders if you keep trying to push people around. It's bad karma, and more important it doesn't usually work. Southerners, for example, just slow down when you tell them that you tell them you're in a hurry. Do not act like a New York City brain surgeon unless you really are one.
Luckily, my shirt lady was into divinity and she had forgiven me before I walked away. That, and she was happy with the ten bucks.
Causes Marilyn Kallet Supports
Southern Poverty Law Center, US Holocaust Memorial Museum, ACLU, Amnesty International, Save Darfur.