The Man From T.I.K.I.
Gregorio was back the next week with a load of grass fed organic island beef that was so good vegetarians had to reaffirm their faith in its presence. We had the kiawe wood fires going early and by late afternoon the coals were dancing. Kegs of Kona brewed beer were being offloaded and the Kihei Ice Truck had made it all the way in this time on our gravel road. The weather was doing its best to impress even hard core islanders with clear skies and warm breezes. Just another day in paradise.
Our weekly luau was gearing up just nicely. Sandy and Coco were dressed in some kind of outfits that reminded me of Trader Vic meets Walt Disney. They were giggling and prancing around so much that it would have made burlap bags look good. Ma & Pa had friends in from Canada or some place really cold. These folks were breathing in the 72 degree air like it was some kind of incense. Hard winters were always good for business in the tropics.
As I was organizing the bar a gentleman walked up to where I had several hemp towels stacked. He stood silently, waiting to get my attention. Finally, he did.
I turned to see who was standing there. His hair was quite gray but had not yet made the leap to white. His eyes were well disguised behind some authentic looking Texas Sheriff sunglasses. His lips were drawn back in a half smile that hinted at sarcasm. On top of my hemp towels was a law enforcement style badge attached to a flip open wallet also containing his ID.
Glancing at all that in one brief moment, I offered a little solicitously, "What you drinking officer?"
He didn't bite.
"Are you the proprietor of this establishment?" His half smile faded a little.
I felt a little like calling in backup, so I snapped my fingers for Tiwaka. He squawked and immediately sauntered down from the other end of the bar, walking like a drunk sailor down a church aisle.
That got this guy's attention. He turned slightly to watch the approaching storm, as Tiwaka slowly spread out his stubby wings to their full glory. His feathers were fluffed up and his head was bobbing like he was ready for some street brawl.
"Wassup bruddha!" Tiwaka said. "Let us party!"
That bird could not get that last phrase out of his mouth with the contraction 'Let's" and so it didn't quite broadcast that invitation to fight like it was supposed to. I shook my head a little.
"Don't mess with the parrot, if you want to live!" I said to the guy, smiling to let him know it was with a great dose of humor.
He stood back a bit as Tiwaka moved toward his badge. I glanced down at it again and immediately recognized it as something other than local law enforcement.
"Who are you again?" I asked, looking up at the mirrored glasses.
"I'm from T.I.K.I. and I'm here to help you." His smile broadened slightly, uncovering dazzling white teeth.
Looking down at his ID again it did indeed say:
T.I.K.I. Enforcement Division
Sector 12, Pacific Rim
"OK, so what can you help with me then?" I was looking around for the cameras. Someone was pulling a prank on me evidently.
He pulled his mirrored glasses down a bit, so I could see his eyes, or perhaps so he could see out of the too dark filters.
"I'm inspecting your establishment, sir, to ensure you are meeting the high standards set down by the 1958 TIKI Convention."
I was waiting for the laugh, the crack up, the double over guffaw that must undoubtedly follow. His smile retreated back to the first version.
"I, uh, never heard of such a thing, Mister, uh," I looked down at the badge again as he was folding it back up and putting it into his pastel summer jacket.
"Michael. Douglas Michael. Badge number 4 3 0." He pulled up a stool and looked again at the parrot, now tiring of holding his little stubby wings out for so long.
"Stand down little guy," Mr. Michael said.
Tiwaka almost collapsed as he folded his feathers back into his overfed body. I needed to manage his chocolate consumption a little better.
"Look, are you some kind of health inspector? If so, I know the routine." I turned to look toward the kitchen. "Just give me a minute to clean up....."
"No, no." He interrupted. "Nothing like that." He pushed his glasses back up into his gray hair and continued.
"I'm here to simply assess whether your so-called title of Tiki Bar is appropriate."
I felt like pouring myself a drink. So, I did. Ice water, tons of ice and a shot of really, really red cranberry juice. I watched the color spill over the submerged ice before answering.
"And, sir, I suppose you stay pretty busy at this?"
"It's a never ending quest, if you will. The 1958 TIKI convention set down standards for any and all establishments invoking the TIKI theme, to ensure the dreams of a lost generation are faithfully maintained." He never paused or blinked as he pronounced this little bit of history.
I shook my head in amazement. Tiwaka was watching me, for clues I suppose. I had none for him, he was on his own.
"Lost generation you say?"
He sat back on the stool as if my question had so much weight it might actually overwhelm him.
"Yes, of course. The '50s you know. All those teenagers who couldn't quite find themselves crooning to Sinatra or wiggling to Chuck Berry. Once they saw the movie South Pacific they knew there was a big world out there. A world of fantasy, a world of unbridled adventure. A world devoid of snow for many of them.
"They couldn't drink another Schlitz. The girls were coming into their own, going to bars and dances, and they, God bless 'em, wanted something exotic, sweet and dangerous!
"Tiki culture, artificial as it may have been, offered them this. It also offered dreams of kissing some bare chested man on the beach, far away from Mom and Dad.
"Establishments invoking the name TIKI soon sprang up all over America. There had been enclaves in the big cities for decades, but soon they were everywhere.
"Obviously, not all were authentic. Many unscrupulous joints sprang up selling nothing more than ice tea and moonshine. A few pieces of plastic bamboo and some scantily dressed ex-truck stop dancers and they painted TIKI on the plywood walls outside."
He put his head in his hands for a moment.
"It was just horrible," he professed. "Horrible."
Tiwaka had walked backwards enough, keeping a wary eye on this guy, until he found one of his little bamboo perches on my side of the bar. There he sat very still and listened.
The iPod was rotating through the playlist and had just begun "Yellow Bird" by the Ventures. It was certainly a classic of the time, if a few years after the Lost ones. Mr. Michael perked up when he heard this. I might have imagined it, I often imagined many things, but there might have been half a tear in his eye. He looked around the bar, soaking it all in.
Tiwaka hopped off his perch and started walking back down the bar, occasionally pushing the coasters out of his magnificent path. Sandy walked behind me gathering the coconut bowls, her hair tied back and her outfit something to remember. Coco was right behind her. She stopped dead in her tracks and looked over at the Man from T.I.K.I.
"Wow, he's a cute one!" She blew a light kiss and followed up behind Sandy, putting down new coasters and napkins along the bar. Looking back at him, she wiggled her hips underneath her pareo, to his admiring gaze.
Gregorio appeared from the BBQ scene and asked for a Coco Loco Moco. I reached under the bar for a fresh coconut and began the ritual. Ma could be heard in the background saying we needed more pineapples. Pa was putting out the new menus and wondering out loud what an Ococ was.
Mr. Michael seemed to be satisfied. He took off his pastel jacket showing off an aloha print tshirt. He smiled finally, a great big toothy announcement that told me we had passed whatever inspection he had been performing.
"Well, sonny, I think I have seen all I need to see." He reached down into a small briefcase, covered in travel stickers. Pulling out a parchment and a pen, he started to write in big bold letters.
Handing it over to me, I read:
1958 TIKI Convention Awards this
Certificate of Authenticity to:
Tiwaka's Tiki Bar & Grill
Sector 12, Pacific Rim
Inspector # 4 3 0
Before he let me take it he did ask, "You do serve Mai Tais I hope?"
"Of course," I smiled.
He let me have the paper and turned to look for Coco.
listen to the iTunes Tiki Playlist,
ask Tiwaka a question
get your own individual
Coco Loco Moco recipe
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Text copyright © 2009 by Everett Peacock.