Originally Published: May 24th, 2013; Updated: June 23rd, 2014
Spring Break, A Not-Yet-Gay Fairytale
Steven A Na Hiku Wahine
(and the Seven Girls in Hawaiian)
“Aloha!” the half-naked men in bright yellow sarongs with bold green palm trees that burst from the fabric wrapped lightly around their wastes shout in unison. They hand us gold-splashed Mai Tai’s adorned with thick pineapple slices and vibrant umbrellas. Following me into the Old Lahaina Luau is my entourage: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven girls.
I am Hugh Heffner’s protégé on Hawaiian soil.
We make our way to the table, which is in front of the thick stonewall and walkway that divides the guests from the performers. It is low to the ground and there are hard, flat pillows resting on neon green Astroturf; these are our chairs. Authentic. Before I’m able to reach the table, our waiter, who must have seen the seven girls, brings over complimentary shots. He flirts with them while I sit in silence, completely overlooked.
Throughout the night, I notice countless guys staring at our table. At me, at the girls, at me again, probably wondering how someone like me managed to wrangle this budding bevy of beauties.
Once the show is over, we stand up and collect ourselves. I stretch to rid myself of the hump that formed on my back from slouching for two hours. That’s when I notice a family had stopped in front of our table.
“I just want to know,” the son asks, “how do you do it, man?” He was tall and lanky, towering at least a foot over my five-foot ten-inch frame. His black goatee is distracting me.
“A true master never reveals his secrets,” I say, doing the ole ‘the wink and the gun.’
“He should hang out with you,” the dad tells me, referring to his son. “He could use a few pointers.” He then reiterates, in a few different ways, how his son is lacking in the girl department, only stopping when his wife nudges him in the gut.
“Seriously man, how’d you do it? One-two-three-seven girls!!” he says, counting the totally bodacious babes that surround me. “You are my idol!”
The girls laugh and one of them says, “He’s our pimp.”
“What are your secrets?” the son asks. “How’d you get to go away with seven girls?”
“I’m just lucky I guess.”
* * *
“Four girls?” My grandmother asked. “What the hells wrong with you?” she said, as casually as ‘pass the potatoes.’ “Don’t you have any boys you can live with?” she said, quietly mocking and passing judgment with each spoken syllable.
In the past, I tried to imagine what it would be like to have my grandmothers mouth sewn shut, stringing the needle myself with threads of compassion and having her rendered completely speechless, but at this point I had managed to learn how to tune her out. Far less messy.
“They needed a fifth roommate, and asked me as a favor.” Truth was, nobody else wanted to live with me, and I didn’t want to live with anybody else.
“Do you like any of these …girls,” she snarled. When she said “girls,” she might as well have said “whores” because from the look on her face and her old school values, four girls living a boy surely meant a pimp and his hookers.
“Does it matter?”
“Well, I’m just saying,” she said, then go off on a tirade. “You need to find a good girl who cooks and cleans and helps around the house, and the girls,” she snarls, emphasizing the word girls in all the wrong ways, “you chum around with…are pigs.”
I sat back, propping my elbow up on the kitchen counter and squished my face against my fist, drifting off while maintaining eye-contact to give the illusion that I was still listening.
* * *
The four girls I decided to live with at the end of my sophomore year – B, K, C, and V – had been planning their spring break to Hawaii for over a year. B’s parents had a timeshare, so it seemed like the logical vacation. And over that year, there had been drama amongst the roommates, so at one point, every person decided they weren’t going because of an ongoing grudge, but the end of our first semester as seniors somehow saw us all deciding to go to Hawaii, if for no reason than because, for me, there was nothing better to do and I had nowhere else to go.
These girls had been my closest friends since the end of freshman year, each of them appealing to me in different ways. B was someone I laughed nonstop with, especially when we would go Barnes & Noble where we would pretend to be studying, but instead have different hot pink and black colored version of the Kama Sutra propped up inside of our text books, giggling and blushing at certain positions and wondering if anyone knew what we doing. K was our resident mom – and bartender. She made us any drink we wanted and took care of us when we projectile vomited them out. C appealed to the intellectual side of me, never seeming to run out of things to say as we chatted away for hours, and our silences were never awkward. V brought out the sloth in me, letting me know it was totally fine to spend Sundays on the couch, watching TV movie-marathons and ordering Chinese food with a side of pizza and a topping of brownies; V and I had some of the best Sunday’s on record.
But it wasn’t just the roommates who were going to Hawaii. B enlisted two of her good girlfriends as well, S and Lo. I didn’t know either of them very well. S and I had made out on my 21st birthday, and through my drunken stupor I remember subtly nibbling on her bottom lip, tugging at it, playing with it, trying to evoke some sort of feeling into it, but for all I know I could have been drawing blood and piercing it as I rammed my tongue down her throat. There is no telling, as there was enough alcohol running through my veins to fill a keg. As for Lo, the only thing I knew about her was that she was uptight and a neat freak. She was abnormally friendly, but always seemed to silently judge with sugar-coated contempt.
So now there were six girls going. Six girls and one guy. Some would say this was the story of my life. I wasn’t exactly what you would call a “guys’ guys.” I just was never friends with a lot of guys. Sure, I always had a few close buddies, but they faded with years, came and went when I moved to a new town in elementary school, or transitioned from middle to high school, or left for four cold years in Ithaca, NY. I was constantly surrounded by the fairer sex.
My dad moved out when I was five, which sent my mom into debt to the point of filing for bankruptcy, so we had to move in with her best friend and her daughter. I was the only boy in a house of three women. Later we moved in with my grandma, who has two other daughters. For the first 11 years of my life I was the only grandchild, the only boy in a world of estrogen. This was my life, and I was used to it. Because of that I always got along better with girls. I knew how to handle girls better than I knew how to interact with guys.
When I went to college I figured I would grow out of that and make a good group of guy friends. When it came time for spring break, I would be traveling to Cancun with six of my closest buddies for a week of debauchery. It’s odd to think of spring break, and not conjure images of half naked co-eds baring all for the cameras, with only a thin layer of velvety whipped creamed clothing, while guys nearly as exposed, wag their tongues in the background and sign their hands in a way that screams “rock on” as speakers blasts the latest Hip-Pop sensation. I had never been a whipped-cream licking, drunk-n-rowdy guy comfortable enough to offer colored beads to a ready-n-willing girl in exchange for a game of skin-flavored peek-a-boo, and that’s exactly what Hawaii was not going to be.
* * *
“Seven girls?” my best friend, Samantha, said. “I couldn’t do it, girls are just so catty and hard to go away with.”
“You know you’re a girl, right?” I said sarcastically.
“Well,” she filtered my sarcasm, as she’d learned how to do by then, “all I know is that I give you credit. I couldn’t even do it.”
In high school Sam and I were inseparable. I picked her up for school every morning, and went to her house everyday afterwards. We spent weekends at each others houses, we walked through the halls of school together, we ate lunch together. So naturally, everyone thought we were dating.
Not that I never thought about it. In a lot of ways I thought we would have made the perfect couple, but we were too brother-sister to make it work. We played off each other, and our chemistry told everyone we were a couple.
Going back to visit high school now, I sometimes run into my old teachers who constantly ask “How’s Sam?” or “Where is your better half?” expecting me to say “Hh yes, well we’re married, have 2.5 children and live in a house with a white picket fence.” Because, of course, that’s how it’s supposed to go.
Boy meets girl, boy woos girl, girl accepts boys proposal. But never in that classic story does it say: Boy and girl become friends and nothing more.
It’s unnatural, as my grandmother would put it. Boys and girls don’t become friends, there are social implications and consequences to that.
* * *
Our plane landed in Hawaii around 6:30pm on Friday and once we all met up at baggage claim, we strolled directly over to the rental car area to pick up two matching silver PT Cruisers.
Shoving the luggage of seven girls and a guy into two PT’s was no small task. We shuffled and reconfigured the lumpy oversized bags like a live-action game of Tetris.
“Steven, can you lift this?” was said numerous times, accompanied with wide-eyed puppy faces.
What are you, I thought, Damsels in distress? I thought that look went out with women’s lib. They fought to lift their own suitcases, but since I was there, why bother? I’m the guy. I’m expected to lift heavy suitcases, kill small spiders, and know how to jump a car, not that I have a problem with that stereotype.
Hawaii on spring break is not the raunchy sex-fest like Cancun. Rather, it’s more like visiting a retirement center in Florida. At our timeshare-hotel, almost every room was either occupied by a family or older, retired couples. A shuffle board and a mahjong tournament would have made the experience complete. The older women either thought it was sweet that I was with all these girls, or they just didn’t notice my lack of breasts, but the older men, when their wives’ backs were turned, would tilt their heads, gaping open-mouthed at the girls I was with, then doing a double-take at me, would either wink their eyes and nod their heads with jealousy, or shoot me disdainful glances.
The timeshare was set in between a string of hotels along the West Maui shoreline. The Hono Koa looked like an ordinary hotel from the outside, and inside took on the look of a decorated condominium. There was a long entrance hallway that lead to a small dining area, behind which was the long narrow, fully functioning kitchen, splashed a bright virgin white, the only contrast being the concrete speckled faux granite countertop. The first bedroom on the left held the two twin beds and a bathroom with a fan-light that, when flicked on, roared and hummed so loudly that if someone were to slip and fall in the shower, nobody would hear the ear-piercing cries over the blaring horns of the fan. The other room housed a king-sized bed and enough room for an air mattress, and just enough floor space for various make-up cases and mall stands of hair products and gadgets.
It was only a matter of time before there were hair products, make-up bags, hair-straighteners, feminine deodorant, contact lens cases, jewelry and tampons strewn all over the bathroom counter, taking up every spare inch so that, if you didn’t already know the counter was black granite, you couldn’t tell. Suitcases seemed to bubble up and overflow, oozing like lava throughout the timeshare. There were bikinis, thongs, and tanning lotion bottles everywhere. I was resigned to certain corners, where I could dig a hole for my stuff.
To celebrate our first night out, we drove, somewhat directionless, into downtown Lahaina, to Front Street, that housed various bars, restaurants, and countless gift shops, all stocked with the same tacky souvenirs. And then the first obstacle. “Where do we all want to eat?” the question which predictably garnered a bevy of different responses. Each girl had their “Well, I definitely don’t want this,” and as we stood in awkward in silence, each of us shrugging our shoulders, I decided to take the podium: “Let’s just go to Bubba Gump’s, it’s seafood but it has a little bit of everything.” That was the first glimpse of Father Steven, my first step-up-to-the-plate, to steer the directionless and indecisive seven co-eds. They followed me, one by one, and I imagined them carrying pickaxes, whistling and bobbing their heads as they followed me blindly into the restaurant.
Our waitress came up to the table, looked around and said “Welcome to Bubba Gumps, ladies, what can I get you?”
K and a few others looked at me, and I popped my head out. “I’ll take a club soda, thanks.” The waitress did a double take, and looked around again and nodded her head approvingly at me. “Sorry about that, I didn’t see you there. Look at these girls, nice going,” she said, in her own Hawaiian accent.
As the week progressed, it became apparent that I was the one who was getting the most stares. While my female counterparts untied their slinky bikini straps and lay on their stomachs in the sand, lined up in a row like beauty pageant contestants, I noticed that they weren’t getting the most stares.
Every so often, about once a day – never more, usually less – we would come across a group of college-aged guys, drinking cans of frosty brew, digging their feet into the sand. Some wore baseball caps, wife beaters and zinc on their noses to shield their fair skin from frying and crisping, some guys went bare-chested to expose their carefully sculpted physiques, rubbing their abs so that everyone on the beach knew they had them. They crushed beer can after beer can, and soon their eyes wandered over to our straight line of bathing beauties.
Since I’m a certified people watcher, I’m always aware of what’s going on around me, following strangers gazes, watching them interact, like a stage version of a discovery channel show. I notice the guys, but their gazes are not at the girls, they’re on me. I can read their minds, as they look at me, confused and befuddled. I can hear them in my head:
“That must be the gay friend,” one would said.
“I don’t know, he doesn’t look gay,” another would chime in.
“Then why is he with all those girls?”
“Maybe he’s with one of them,” they’d try to reason.
They would never assume that we were all just friends. Or that I was straight. It defied logic; there would have to be an ulterior motive on my part. If one girl was with seven guys, it wouldn’t be an issue because she would just be considered a fun girl who likes to drink, party, and hang with the guys.
I was like a walking tourist attraction: “Come see the dude who scored a platonic Hawaiian vacation with seven girls!” the sign outside the long line of freak-show tents would read.
But girls at the beach wouldn’t give me a second look because of the company I kept. Not that I wasn’t used to it. People just assume that when you’re out to dinner or walking across the street with a girl every day that you’re dating. It’s hard to fathom the fact of just being friends without any expectations.
After a few days, I took to taking walks by myself, letting my legs carry me into the Whaler’s Village to get a break from the stares. It was there that I realized instead of letting it get to me, I should began to play up to the stereotypes and expectations of being on vacation with seven girls. But what role would I chose?
Gay or Straight Stud?
The character I chose would depend on the situation. For example, if we were out at a bar and a creepy guy was “making eyes” at one of the girls, I was obligated to be the boyfriend, so I would straighten up, and put on my best “don’t fuck with my girl” face as I slyly wrapped my arm around my main squeeze. And if there was a good-looking guy checking out one of the girls, I was required to act sexually unthreatening, so I would become more animatedly obnoxious and take a back seat to whatever love connection I would be playing part to.
Call me Ryan Seacrest.
The problem is that I’m not an asexual TV show host.
The problem is that this vacation was shedding light on something I’ve been trying so desperately to ignore. It’s getting harder and harder to convince myself – and everyone else – that I’m not the Straight Stud.
* * *
“It’s unnatural,” my grandmother said.
“What’s unnatural,” I said in a robotic monotone.
“Alls I’m saying,” she waved her hands in the air in round circles, like she was washing windows, “is that a boy should have boy friends. You hang around with too many girls.”
“So what?” she pretends to act like she didn’t say anything. “I’m just saying, people think you’re funny when all your friends are girls.”
Funny? I’ve been getting that my entire life. It seems to be an unwritten rule that, if you’re a guy and all of your close friends are girls, then you automatically sleep with guys.
Guys are supposed to be friends with guys. We’re supposed to experience a brotherhood of camaraderie while continuously drinking beer, playing cards, smoking cigars, and laying women… not befriending them.
There are names for boys who’d rather go to the mall with a bunch of girls play a game of neighborhood football. There are looks given to the boys who eat lunch in the cafeteria at a table full of girls.
I always felt like I was being stared at by the guys I looked up to, the guys I wanted to hang out with, like there was something wrong with me.
* * *
Today, five of the girls and I decide to take the Blue Water Rafting tour, a tour of Maui’s coastline, that will weave in and out of thick rippling blackened lava caves carved into the rough ocean. We’ll stop to snorkel at Sea Turtle Heaven.
The raft, aptly named The Pineapple Express, takes up about ¼ of the length of the long, steel dock it’s anchored to. One by one we get in and notice that there are no seats. The inflated pontoons were large and blue and were high enough to encapsulate us inside the boat.
Positioning ourselves along the sides of the raft, L, Lo and I on one side, and B, S and K on the other, we talk and laugh while we wait for our tour guide. Little by little, people fill out the rest of the boat; couples on their honeymoon, old retired couples, families with small children. We were the only college students on the trip.
“Oh you know we’re gonna be the rowdiest people on here,” L said, and devilishly grinned from cheek to cheek.
“I’m looking forward to that,” I said.
It’s 8am, and the sun is peeking over the mountains, illuminating the sparkling crystal clear waters, glittering the ripples a golden hue. The lush green coastlines of the neighboring islands were glowing with the new sunlight. The warm tropical breeze tastes like crisp pineapples.
Dante, our tall, muscled captain, climbs aboard the Pineapple Express, looks around, and takes attendance, like high school. He and our co-captain – whose name escaped me, but he looked liked his name could be named “Pirate John” – begins instructing us on safety issues, joking around about tossing us overboard.
Noticing me with the five girls, both Dante and “Pirate John” turn their attentions to me.
“How’d you manage to be here with all these girls?” Dante asks.
“I’m just lucky, I guess,” I say, for the millionth time that trip.
“What are you guys here for?” Dante asks again.
“Spring break,” we all said.
“Sometimes I think going back to college is a good idea, although my wife wouldn’t like that very much,” Pirate John winked through his slick black sunglasses. “You’re gonna have to give Dante a few pointers.”
“I’ll show ya everything I know, but it might take awhile,” I said, giving a wink and the finger-gun.
We all laugh, and I secretly wished I actually had something to teach them.
There is still so much I have left to learn.
NOTE: I’ve been looking over my writing from college a lot lately. Most of it is pretty craptastic, but I’ve always been fond of this piece. This is a piece I wrote during my senior year of undergrad at Ithaca College for my senior seminar. Looking at it now, it’s incredibly surface-level, ridden with mistakes and flaws, but it’s really honest and says a lot about this period of my life. It’s not the best piece of writing, but looking at everything that I wrote around that time, it’s the most telling, and the most honest I had ever been up until that point.
Disclaimer: This takes A LOT for me to post, mostly because of how poorly it’s written. I tried to edit it as little as possible, so it’s 2008 Steven, not 2013 older-wiser-more-grammatically-correct -with-a-stronger-voice Steven.