Hawaiian Punch

Tony Gleeson

I lost my connection with surf culture when my band broke up more than a year ago. Intense and driven, I had relied on the contagious calm that the guys — all of them surfers — brought to my life and to our collaboration. They were the vibe; I was the amp. When this didn't result in static, it helped me relax and hang loose — or at least a little looser.

On a recent Sunday night, in need of a "no worries" infusion, I headed to Kahuna. Despite the poseuresque Hawaiian name for a place for Florida locals, I quickly found it an ideal spot to chill for more reasons than just the frozen slushy selection. After all, nothing says "no worries" like being able to jump your car "Dukes of Hazzard style" into a drainage ditch, leave the scene of the crime, then laugh about it all later. And Mac, a server at the Deerfield Beach bar, did just that when I asked how he liked his job.

"Basically, I moved here and then parked my car in a canal," the server told me with a wry smile. "I'm working here to pay off the tickets."

Other than minor injuries, the only damage was done to the car and his driving record — and to his career. Though he has a business degree, he needed the fast cash of the restaurant job. When he told me the authorities found him by tracing the gym ID on the keys he'd left in the ignition, I couldn't help but laugh too. OK, it wasn't a classic surf tale, but it did share a similar spirit.

As the afternoon's reggae band carried out the last of its equipment, the night's acoustic entertainer began setting up. At 8:30 p.m., the crowd was in transition too. People shuffled in and out in their flip-flops. Most lounged in the chairs at the tables on the porch so they could smoke. Others leaned casually on tabletops chatting in booths by the wall.

A wood sign on the bamboo-lined wall declared: Locals only. But it seemed more like a decorative accent than a real warning (the locals had embraced a reckless driver from out-of-state as one of their own, after all). I was hoping they'd also accept a nosy reporter from the next county who'd dug up her surfer attire in the hopes of blending in.

The dude next to me with the maze of blond dreadlocks seemed natural in these surroundings and admitted he was a surfer who lived just around the corner.

"I'm here only during business hours," he quipped, "cuz when it's closing time, I know I have to get up for work soon."

It seemed like a reasonable policy, and I said so. Waiting for his beer, he let an easy smile part his densely grown beard and mustache and introduced himself as Eric. Then he quizzed me on who I was and why I'd come to his hangout on a Sunday night. But I wasn't giving up much.

"You're not riff-raff, are you?" he asked with a suspicious look.

"Is that something that washes up on the beach?" I asked, just to be a smartass.

"Good one!" he said nudging me with his elbow.

I was pretty sure it wasn't, but I was glad he was playing along.

When the bartender delivered his beer, I ordered a mai-tai slushy from the many colorful frozen drink options whirring in the stainless-steel machines and then asked him to define riff-raff.

"You know... people who... ," he said, clearly mincing words as he tried to define his term as vaguely as possible, "have bad habits."

"Sometimes I burp in public," I offered as a definition of one of my own bad habits.

He assured me such behavior was acceptable and accepted my peace offering — a sample of my brain-freezing cocktail — before returning to his bevy of babes at one of the tables.

Alone again, I eavesdropped on the staff's banter. A few of them, including Mac and another who introduced himself as Matt, were tossing the word zu-zu between them.

"Like Zuzu's petals?" I interrupted.

"No, it means 'penis' in Haitian," Mac explained, obviously so new to town that he didn't realize that Haitian isn't a language.

I noted the Creole term wasn't as masculine as the English slang.

"Cock and dick: Now there's some words with balls to them," I remarked with a smirk.

"That's because Haitians have smaller zuzus," Mac shot back.

I wondered aloud how he became such an expert in comparative penis studies.

"We had everyone in the kitchen line up," he laughed.  

I was pretty sure he was joking, but after seeing the movie Waiting, who can be entirely sure?

When she sat down, I figured I might ask Geralda about the term since she looked to be of Haitian descent (which she later confirmed), but as I got to talking with her, the Bru's Room waitress who was paying her way through PBCC just seemed too sweet for me to interject something so vulgar.

"I just turned 21. I should be going crazy right now, but I never drink," she said as she sipped a layered mixture of Big Kahuna and Dirty Banana frozen drinks.

"Um, you're out now," I responded and nodded toward her beverage. "And it's a school night."

She claimed that her cousin, who was sitting next to her but was not very chatty, had made her come out "just for one."

"I moved out of my parents' house when I was 18, so I already did that stuff. Now, I'm kinda boring," she said, flashing a perfect smile, which gleamed far brighter than the twinkly diamond stud in her nose. "I want to prove to them that I can do it. I refuse to give up and move back."

When she asked me what I did for a living, she chirped, "So you're like Carrie Bradshaw!"

"Sorta, I guess," I shrugged, but then I extended a leg so Geralda could see the plastic flip-flop that dangled from my toe.

"Except they ain't Manolo Blahnik's," I sniffed indignantly and gave her a good laugh.

As the musician, who had introduced himself as Justin Enco, played pot-smoking anthems like "The Joker" and "Burn One Down," someone had evidently decided to take a legal approach to a good buzz: The bartender was mixing up something in a snifter glass that was bigger than my head.

"What the hell is that?" I asked.

"Alcohol poisoning!" the fellow next to me interjected, pointing to the menu.

I followed his finger to "Nui Loa Mai Tai," a 60-ounce mai tai topped off with 151 rum. The drink description ended with the strange command "Remember!"

"What is it that you're supposed to remember, do you think?" I asked when I'd followed the drink to its recipient, Craig. "Your hangover? Or do you think it's so powerful, it brings back forgotten memories?"

"I think it's a joke," Craig said.

Um, yeah.

I asked if he was there alone, and he told me he was out supporting his buddy Justin while he played his gig. Sometimes he even plays the tambourine.

"He's not gonna play after drinking that!" Justin assured me, as he claimed his beverage — a water — from the bar.

OK, so Justin was superprofessional, but that's not much fun for me, so I told Craig I'd check back in when he was finished with his drink to see if he remembered anything. I had to claim my seat anyway since now, after 11 p.m., the place was quickly filling up and seats were becoming precious.

Matt came over from his pool game to offer me a drink.

"How about a Wipeout?" he said, extending his beverage. "Try it. If you like it, we'll get you one."

With my mother's flippant counsel Germs can only get you if you believe in them ever in mind, I sipped the tropical concoction. It was quite good, but as the girl behind him pulled her sweatshirt on backward so that the hood hung like a feedbag beneath her chin and with Mac's own recent wipeout as reminders of the possible consequences, I declined.

Not only had things become busier but the crowd had changed. The casual clan of hippies, surfers, and in-the-bizzers (Matty had noted earlier that the place is so cool, employees hang out there even when they're off-duty) had given way to a more frenetic group of clubbies, dressed for pickup action. They poured in from JBs across Ocean Boulevard.

"It's Douchebag City," Mac had warned when I asked about the club across the street, which was so packed that clientele flooded its driveway.

"It's all pretentious. If you don't have the right labels... ," he continued, so I decided to wait for a night when I had on shoes that cost more than ten bucks to check the place out.

As I surveyed the new blood — girls with lots of makeup, sequined cami-tops, high heels, and guys with lots of product in their hair and wearing buttoned-down shirts — I noticed Eric was now leaning against the railing of the walkway outside with some of his hippie gal pals.

"You're like the pimp around this place, always with girls around you, aren't you?" I joked as I approached, but he wasn't in the mood for light banter. He just kept muttering about riff-raff. I started to suspect it was his code for the citizens who evidently invade every Sunday night when they need a break from the crowd across the street.  

Before I left, I noticed Craig had finished his colossal drink — and was considering another.

"So, do you remember anything?" I asked.

"The name of my second-grade teacher at Florinada Elementary: Miss Parillo," he replied.

I suggested he have another to see what other memories surfaced.

"Then you're taking him home!" Justin interjected as he packed up the last of his gear.

Nice guy or not, that was definitely not a memory I wanted to make. So what if the evening wasn't epic? It was time to follow the directive of the surf logo printed across my chest: Split.

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