Roy Barstow, a short story.
A story of triumph over weirdness.
Roy Barstow, an auditor for the computer giant Hewlett Packard was laid off from his job in the budget reduction sweep of 2009 along with 30,000 of his coworkers. Roy’s job of twenty years had been to identify cost overruns in the human resources department.Roy was a thrifty man. He lived alone in a square cinderblock apartment building built in the 70’s in San Jose California. He was 5’4” but appeared taller because of his bony stature and platform loafers. Roy had a short self inflicted haircut he administered with a Flowbee™haircutting system he’d found on the QVC shopping network. The hair behind his ears was shaved close so his glasses fit snuggly. He wore tan slacks and plaid office shirts, even on his days off. He had never traveled anywhere voluntarily. Roy spent 20 years saying yes to every job order, often flying to various countries where he audited HP factories and campuses. Without imagination he’d moved between hotel, office and airport in taxi’s and on buses.
He spent his first year of unemployment getting his apartment organized and continued to dress for work. Roy told me over coffee at the Kilauea Bakery that one morning something in him just snapped. He said he awoke one day and instead of reading the CNN web page and scanning the news as he normally did every morning he Google’d cheaptickets.com and bought a round trip, off season ticket to Kauai, Hawaii for 399.00. By noon of that day he was walking down the jet way tunnel at the Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport onto a direct flight to Lihue, Kauai. It was a Sun trips chartered 727. Asked why he chose Kauai Roy said there were identical prices for trips to other islands but this one included two free Mai Tai drinks and Chicken Lasagna for lunch.
Upon arrival at the Lihue airport Roy walked across to the Hertz Rental car agency. A woman whose name tag said “Tita” was friendly in a gruff way. She spoke a dialect of English he could barely follow. Fortunately when she suggested upgrading to a better car she slowed her speech down for emphasis and for once in his life Roy stepped out of the box and said “yes”, he upgraded. He thinks the free Mai Tai’s may have been part of his rash decision. When he threw his luggage into the back and climbed into the drivers seat of the bright red Jeep Cherokee he was impressed with himself and thought, “I’m just getting started.” He put the top down and pulled out of the airport drive onto the highway and abruptly slowed to 30 miles per hour into the traffic pattern of Kauai that more closely resembled a train of cars following each other hood to tailpipe around the single highway that circled the island. Following the directions he’d printed out on Yahoo maps for a B & B he’d found through the web page called islandgetaways.com Roy turned right and drove north. Forty-five minutes later he made a right turn off the highway after mile marker #26. With complete faith in his cyber information he followed what was a rather questionable and steep dirt track down into a dark tunnel of trees. It wound through dense forest and narrowed. Finally with a sigh Roy sighted a home… sort of. It was nearly a part of the forest. Palm fronds lay over part of the green roof. Leaves and moss covered the rest. He parked under a pipe and tarp awning that sort of looked like a carport and walked through the forest litter to the front door. Two wallowing animals on chains bellowed from under an Avocado tree laden with fruit the size of footballs. Roy put on his glasses for focus and identified them as an incredibly fat pair of Rottweiler’s covered by a cloud of fruit flies and grinning through a slime of avocado encrusted jaws.
Before his first knock the front door opened and a lithe blond in a bright gauze sarong and orange bikini top stepped outside through a fog of incense. She gave Roy an unusually affectionate hug and said in a delicate voice, “You must be Roy, I’m Moani! Alohaah!” Roy had never held a woman in skimpy clothing before and was so overcome with such attentions he replied, “Mow-a-knee, it’s a pleasing, pleasure… Are those dogs?” His host, Ms Moani Pukalani, formerly Howard Steingarten of Laguna Beach California, escorted Roy down a short garden path to the last of three cute, but technically not permitted, one-room cottages. Roy explored the grounds briefly but after his long day traveling retired indoors to unpack and rest. He nibbled at the muffins and sipped at the guava juice left by his host and soon fell asleep to the sounds of a trickling stream and various jungle birds cooing outside his open windows. During the night a loud drumming woke him. Roy sat up and realized it was rain on the thin tin roof above his head. He attempted to get up to close the windows but fell back into Jetlag oblivion. Hours later a roaring noise overtook the rhythmic and soothing drumming and made him sit upright on his futon cushion. It was difficult for Roy to process, He’d never heard anything so deafening except maybe the roar from the big theatre sound systems during previews for the animated sci-fi movies he often watched. Standing up on the floor and looking out the open window in the direction of the stream he soon deduced that the stream was now a raging twenty foot wide brown torrent moving thousands of cubic meters of water, soil and the occasional tree past the foot of his bungalow. Roy could sleep no longer and as it was nearly dawn anyway he decided to get up and brew a cup of his complimentary Kona coffee. He flipped on the light switch only to discover the power was out. Remembering the Aroma Therapy lamp filled with Traveleze™oil that Moani Pukalani he re-lit it to find his way around the room. He identified his pile of clothing, dressed quickly, grabbed his car keys and evacuated his lodgings for someplace on higher ground. Luckily his rental car was four-wheel drive because his way out was now a sluice box of mud and tree limbs. He considered this and sighed, “Ah, it’s a rental” and drove bravely up the hill.
Roy remembered reading about a small Bakery Café’ with excellent reviews on tripadvisor.com that was only 1.5 miles from his driveway. He drove slowly in the predawn light as the high-speed windshield wipers lost the battle to beat the rain off the window. His slippers squeaked with muddy water as he hit the brakes and stopped in the Kong Lung Center parking lot. Roy felt somehow comforted by the row of cars in the lot at this dawn hour. Since he was already soaked from getting into the Jeep he walked un-hurriedly through the seemingly warm rain, into a courtyard and up the Bakery’s short stairway.
Fortunately there was an awning funneling the deluge away from the line of local people stacked outside the entrance. They were talking cheerfully and were equally as damp but didn’t seem to mind. After all the temperature was a soothing 75 degrees. Roy made his way inside and shuffled across the muddy floor to the counter.
Although he came for coffee he noticed the soup menu and wondered. He asked the frenzied looking young lady behind the counter “Is the Shrimp and Cheddar Chowder ready?” She said, “Are you crazy? It’s six am. How about some coffee? You can try the soup later since you may be stuck in Kilauea all day, the highway just closed on both sides of town.” A little crestfallen he pouted “Huh?” “Yep a power-line’s down across the road South and a mudslide and trees are blocking the road before the bridge to the North.” “Does this happen often?” “The rain? Yeah, but it’s a little heavy this morning. You know it’s really coming down when the cows start floating out the Hanalei river. I’d say it’s been coming down an inch an hour most of the night. Here’s your coffee, hope you can find a seat.”
Roy sipped his coffee and finding all the seats taken stood on the porch outside reading the community bulletin board. The board was a confused cascade of notes and business cards and kept him so busy reading he had to go back inside for a refill and some kind of filled bagel thing oozing with olives and Gorgonzola sauce. Back at the bulletin board Roy realized a person could learn a lot about a community from a board like this. He judged the average rent per room to be between six and seven hundred dollars, not much more than his apartment. Many people were moving in or moving out and buying or selling everything all at once; toaster ovens, cars, TV’s, cats etc. Roy learned that the North shore of Kauai seemed to be a nexus for Channelers, Astral travelers and self proclaimed Gurus. He thought that from a business standpoint there must be some stiff competition in that segment and if he was an astral traveler he’d consider traveling to a time or plane where there were less people in that field of work. He wondered why organic Bat Guano fertilizer was any better than the pellets he bought at the hardware store for house plants and considered what he should try first, a colonic hydro cleanse or a life changing moonlight Cranial sacral massage session in the Pacific ocean. He decided he’d probably work on himself from the top down, it just sounded more sanitary.
Roy had been gazing at the board for nearly fifteen minutes and in a compulsive but compassionate act for other beings like him who might be disturbed by scenes of disorder and anarchy such as this he began to take off notices for events dated previous to that morning, 16 May 2010. He moved services offered to the upper left, items for sale to the upper right, events toward the lower right etc. Once he was satisfied with his work he walked off the Lanai and out to his Jeep. He felt happier with himself; the sun even began to shine.
As he reached his car door Roy looked west with the rising sun at his back, beams of warm light much like the arms of the 21st Century movie spot light shown before the movies he frequently watched back home shot past him and illuminated the verdant jungle covered cliffs above Hanalei. His hand froze on the door handle and he took a breath through open lips shaped like an “O”. There was a rainbow bridging the plain before him so bright he had to squint. A local farmer with wild hair and his skin, clothing, slippers and fingernails tainted ochre from the soil of that land passed in front of him and began to climb into his rusty Toyota that was missing it’s front door. Roy said, “Hey, look at that rainbow!” The farmer cheerfully and with no malice grinned at Roy and gazing the wrong direction asked in a droll manner, “Why, is it a double?”
With his map of Kauai in hand, printed by that infamous cartographer Hertz Rent a Car, Roy pulled out of the parking lot and followed the extremely vague illustration on the page down to a beach in town he’d read the name of on that message board. The notice had read, “Sunrise shells from Secret Beach 50.00 and up”. He deduced the exit was obscured on the map by a large illustration of a goofy looking Albatross that marked the spot of a wildlife refuge and Lighthouse on the cliff near by.
Buoyed by too much organically grown Guatemalan coffee and the bright blue sky that was pushing away the clouds he parked in a dirt lot and located a pathway down a valley in the direction of the ocean. Judging by the traffic of swim suit clad kids and wet dogs, some already getting back to their cars and a few carrying surf boards down the hill he figured he’d found the secret.
Roy, fully clothed in his new flip flops, safari pants and plaid shirt carefully locked his car and walked to the beginning of the path. With his first step down the trail into the valley he slipped and slid through twenty yards of mud. The urge to see a secret beach was so strong he picked some sticks and mud from the crotch of his shorts and carefully continued his descent down the slippery chute. Roy managed to get to within ten feet of the bottom before his next fall in which his feet went out from under him and landed at last in deep sand. He sat where he landed and peeled off his muddy slippers. He certainly wasn’t going to keep them on and looked around by the base of the trail for a good place to set them. Right at his elbow was a neat row of ten other muddy pairs as if visitors had entered a clean house and politely removed their shoes and set them by the door. It comforted him to discover he was not the only muddy hiker. He put his slippers in line and stood. The sand was golden, the ocean a blue he’d only seen in Corona Beer commercials, he was stunned. Roy walked across the beach to where breakers beat against it, washing up and down a little slope making a rhythmic sound that reminded him of the Stairmaster machine he stepped up and down on obediently at his fitness club back home.
He sat down there on the edge and looked around. Up and down the shore were scattered groups of bathers and surfers. It was a panorama of tan skin and bathing suits. He judged the total weight of bathing suits on the beach, wet, to perhaps be 16 ounces and felt a bit over dressed. He wisely kept his shirt on though not wanting to blind anyone with the virgin whiteness of his belly. He took note of the only other obvious newcomer on the beach. There was a big, white, oily, shiny man with nothing on but a gold neck chain and a Stainless steel Rolex Navigator wristwatch. The man was wading into the breakers.
Roy inhaled deeply and exhaled and his head began to clear. Something in him was changing. He felt growth or movement like a worm stretching out of broken soil. Inside he felt strangely wide and open and clear. Clear and full of oxygen as if he’d taken the first real breath of his life. He was dizzy. He knew then as the sun quickly blistered the skin off the tops of his exposed feet that this was the kind of life he wanted. He thought with a little research and study that it might not be so difficult to repurpose an unemployed accountant. Roy calculate with known variables the volume of tourists visiting Kauai every year. He figured it must be about a million souls. He thought all he had to do was get a dollar from each one of those people somehow and he could afford to stay. Maybe the Healing Island as it was coined in more than one brochure on the bakery bulletin board could handle one more service in the market place. Roy wondered what kind of equipment costs were involved in a Colonic Hydro cleansing machine.
As his mind wandered two kids not much past their thirteenth birthday came out of the ocean carrying sharp little surfboards. One was dark skinned and tall with thick black hair. He had geometric triangles tattooed on one arm and letters tattooed on his opposite shoulder that looked Polynesian in origin, they spelled I-NO-KEA.
His partner was a short kid with a mop of sun bleached hair and a terminally sunburned nose that looked as if it had always peeled. As they walked up the sand and began to pass Roy they turned to look back at the surf and began to chat. The nut-brown kid said, “Brah, those dolphins was so close!” “Yeah, ‘til that oily naked guy scared it away.” As the little blond kid began to turn and go his buddy said, “Wait, this is about to get good, we might have a rescue coming.” Roy looked and the big blanched man had drifted out past the waves and did not appear to be enjoying himself any longer. He seemed to be thrashing about a lot but not moving. Several dolphins jumped and frolicked on the shimmering blue ocean behind him. The blond kid habitually peeled a crusty scab off the tip of his nose by pinching his index finger and thumb together and gently pulling. He said, “Oh yeah, I gotta see this.” They watched for a few minutes, as did Roy. Roy became a little concerned for the swimmer’s welfare but hesitated to go near the unfamiliar waters. Then the little kid said, “Now?” and his bigger friend said, “No, not yet. You’ve got to wait until they’re getting more tired out or they might still be too proud.” Another minute passed by and Ron’s toes were curling in the sand with the tension. Suddenly both boys turned and left as if distracted toward new entertainment. All Roy could hear, as the boy’s voices grew distant was, “Brah, lets go get a blended Chai at the Kilaue….”
Roy was now frantic. A fellow human may be drowning right in front of him. He seemed to be thrashing less and sinking. Fortunately a series of waves began to tumble over the guy. After each one pushed him under he would bob back to the surface. Wave after wave rolled him like a log up into water shallow enough for Roy to run to him. Roy got up and trotted over, a wave receded and the man looked like a small-beached whale in the wet sand. The man belched out the word help and fell with his face in the sand. Roy, alarmed and remembering his first aid classes, brushed off the victims face, cleared his air passageways and began to administer Cardio-pulmonary resuscitation. He gave a breath and then five robust pushes to the man’s chest and was leaning over him ready to lip lock with the big doughy guy again when the man pushed him away. He opened his sandy eyes and began mumbling about dolphins and had a strange smile on his face. At that moment Roy recognized something in his expression. Then it dawned on him, he had seen this face before on the Pod cast he listened to the morning he and dozens of his associates had been terminated from their jobs. It was indeed the one and only Michael Curd, CEO of his previous employer, Hewlett Packard. This was the man who had fired him. Roy spit and backed up on the sand. The naked white man rolled over, sand stuck to his oily buttocks. Roy, not usually a vindictive sort, quietly rose before Curd was fully conscious and back away to walk down the beach; empowered, happy and independent. Curd looked like he would live and Roy had to get busy training in one of the many new healing modalities practiced on that island.