Disaster-Nots

Getting freaky with tiki at the Hukilau

Tiki, I was told, is good times. Simple but permissively excessive, from the exotic rum drinks to the fun Polynesian prints. So Hukilau just seemed right for a reunion with my Nordic hunk, Antti, when he visited last week from Finland. That´s how we found ourselves around the pool bar at the Bahia Cabana Beach Resort in Fort Lauderdale for the Thursday-night kick-off of the four-day tiki summit. But, hey, just because I suggested it didn´t mean I understood it.

Like, who knew we´d need new names? Organizer Christie White preferred the moniker Tiki Kiliki. Attendee Elizabeth, who was dressed as Carmen Miranda, asked to be called StumpGrinder (because she carves tiki heads from tree stumps); her boyfriend was Loki for a day. Performer Denny Moynahan had dubbed himself King Kukulele (he sings kooky songs to the ukulele). My man could easily make the transition from Antti to Anttiki, pronounced ¨On tiki.¨

I wasn´t sure exactly what a hukilau was. Would there be ceremonial rituals? Sacrifices to appease the gods and thwart natural disasters? And was such an event BYOV? Because I wouldn´t even know where to look for a virgin in South Florida.

Tony Gleeson

So I started with what I knew, which was how to match bamboo sandals and a basket purse with a polka-dot dress and how to hold two cocktails at once -- a mai tai and a mystery shot with dark rum -- while getting some answers.

¨It´s a coming together,¨ a woman in a blue Hawaiian dress told me. ¨A big feast.¨

¨With rum,¨ her friend in a leopard satin muumuu added, also noting that at the event, ¨People feel free to be who they are and to express themselves.¨

This marked the second year these two, Jessica and Jennifer, had traveled from Virginia for the event. What was last year´s craziest rum-inspired happening?

¨Everyone jumped in the pool!¨ Jennifer said. Clearly I was about to be initiated into a peaceful party culture that values the simple life and honors the child within.

Four guys in ape masks and orange space suits, the Disasternauts, were kicking up a storm of surf music. The lead guitarist held up a single finger, grunting his acknowledgment that they would play one more song (the band really gets into character, monkeying around and aping the crowd), so I decided to hold off on conversation while the band launched into its finale.

Antti and I surveyed the scene from the less-populated, second-story patio, which was an excellent vantage point for us to spot Mike Jones, owner of the Lake Worth hipster joint Jetsetter Lounge, which happens to have its own tiki gardens. Dressed in an aqua/blue retro floral, Jones was snapping pics of a crew of Jetsetter regulars in their Hawaiian prints and vintage duds.

¨Classy as always,¨ Antti observed as Jones put the camera down his pants for a close-up.

Maybe things were vintage tiki down there too? I wouldn´t be surprised.

The band´s last hot surf number inspired a flurry of dancing, including a guy whose variation on the swim combined a drowning flail with the doggy paddle. When we got a little closer, I recognized him as a co-alum from grad school. Besides collecting advanced degrees, John also had a pretty impressive stash of plastic tiki tumblers from the drinks he´d consumed earlier at Jetsetters.

¨I´m a sweaty pig,¨ he said when I commented that his soggy state had lent some authenticity to his dance. He explained that the rum had helped him so that he´d ¨devolved past the evolutionary self to the point where it´s instinctual.¨

That´s the benefit of extensive education: Even when the self devolves, the pretension remains.

As we waited for the next band, the Haole Kats, to set up, a guy dressed in only a bathing suit and still dripping from the pool commandeered the microphone. This was King Kukulele, who strummed a little something on his ukulele (which he loved so much that another entertainer accused him of bogarting the mic on Friday) and warned us not to trust anyone over the age of 12 ¨because they don´t play fair.¨ As part of his shtick, he interviewed a kid who provided the pool report (70 degrees, 100 percent humidity).

Nearby, Jetsetter Jones himself was indulging both his inner child and his adult proclivities by refilling his glass of rum from a vintage ´60s thermos decorated with spaceships, which he kept stashed in his ¨My first cocktail¨ metal lunch box. Always a good sport, he was extraordinarily fun tonight.

When I told him we´d spied his questionable photography practices, he tried to blame it on the band. ¨That was the Disasternauts´ camera!¨ he protested; then he changed the subject by introducing me to a who´s who of the tiki scene.

That´s how I met the author of Tiki Road Trip, James Teitelbaum, one of the event speakers. His book made the event´s claim that a person could ¨experience all Polynesia right in America´s vacationland¨ more than just a grandiose come-on. I wondered aloud what his journeys had taught the Chicagoan, who had documented Polynesian bars around the world.

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