How I became a Frenchman--part 2
Another good friend was Pierre Brisard, a former French Foreign attaché. I met him in the spring of 1988, in the parking lot at Kailua Beach. It was morning, and I was unloading my windsurfing board from the top of my Chevrolet when I saw an older European gentleman—tall and gaunt—about 6’2’’, with an Asian child of about 9 years of age, and they were speaking French. I thought that this was a grandfather with his grandson, and I asked whether they were from Tahiti. He replied in the negative, and we began our conversation. The boy was not his grandson but his son, and I was glad that I did not commit a faux pas by asking the Frenchman about his “grandson.”
At this time in my life, I was 28 years old and have lived on the island of Oahu for nearly 2 years; I was in love with a young Jewish-Italian woman by the name of Jodi G. who was 22 years of age, had beautiful skin, jet-black-wavy hair, and a copious bosom; she was from Brooklyn, New York where she lived, and where I saw her twice (once at a table in a restaurant at a party) prior to my leaving for Honolulu—this woman was more of a fantasy for me as I had never had a date with her and corresponded with her through letters, which must have been amusing to her and to her boyfriend.
I invited her to come to Hawaii and asked my parents to pay for her round-trip ticket—my father was a travel agent, and he arranged it.
The immediate problem in front of me was to secure decent enough lodgings to impress Jodi during her visit. So it was rather serendipitous that the Frenchman said that he would be going away to France in the summer and asked me whether I knew anyone who may want to rent his house. I said that I may be able to help him. He asked me what I did for a living, and I told him about having been a professor of English at Leeward Community College and a real estate salesman. Now this may seem to be an unlikely combination to the reader, so I need to digress a bit about my reasons for entering into the housing market.
The 1988 scene that I just described was a result of both of my careers burgeoning, I was windsurfing on weekends and thereby fulfilling a dream that I cherished when coming to Hawaii just two years prior.
When I came to Hawaii on 3 August 1986, I had $600.00, an abused American Express Credit Card, a Master’s Degree in English, a pair of pants, two long-sleeved shirts, and a tie. The tie, when I wore it after having secured a teaching job, was a butt of many jokes from my colleagues who never wore anything more elaborate than an Aloha Shirt (with many coming to teach their classes in sandals worn over bare feet).
My parents came to Honolulu with me and stayed a week to help me find an apartment. My father put down a security deposit on a tiny studio with a partial view of the Ala Wai canal in Waikiki that cost $375.00 per month. It was an efficiency with a shag carpet a la the 1970’s and a plug-in electric element. My first night in the apartment, after I turned off the lights, I thought I heard something, and when I turned the lights on, the shag carpet was crawling with roaches that hid in its folds during the day. I went to the Waikiki Foodland and bought roach traps that luckily were extremely effective, so at least I did not have roaches thereafter. This was my first unshared apartment, all other previous lodgings having been college dormitory rooms, so I didn’t even know that I could complain to the management about the infestation. I told them about it after I got rid of the problem. I did not receive any compensation.
When my parents left, they thought that I would stay in Honolulu for about a month until my money ran out, and then I would return to Brooklyn where they lived. This was a rational line of reasoning as finding a job in Honolulu was not a foregone conclusion. But I was determined to establish myself in the city of my dreams, and determination goes a long way towards accomplishment of a project. I was fortunate to find a job on the tenth day of my stay in Honolulu thanks to my Master’s Degree in English and my decision to call the community colleges directly—as there were no advertisements in the press about teaching positions beyond pre-school. I found a job at Leeward Community College in Pearl City—about a 2-hour bus ride from Waikiki. I was hired to teach three English classes, 3 credits each as a lecturer. A three-class assignment was considered a full-time load which provided health insurance.
I was paid $413.80 every two weeks. This was enough to cover the cost of my apartment and my monthly bus pass which at the time cost $15.00. The second bi-weekly payment was enough to sustain me while at the same time assuring a gradual weight loss. I realized that I needed to do something else besides teaching in order to keep body and soul together. I opened a newspaper and looked at the real estate advertisements, among other things such as offers of employment.
The real estate prices were low—for example, the studio I rented was for sale for $19,000.00—not that it mattered to me in 1986 when I did not have even a thousand dollars to my name and $14,000.00 of college loan debt--$19,000.00 seemed an impossible obstacle, and I did not know how to buy without money. I noticed, however, that the brokers offered 3% commissions to the buyers’ agents; I thought this was something I could do when not teaching. Thus I decided to enroll in a Century 21 Real Estate School.
This school was located in a strip-mall in Manoa—a rainy valley surrounded by mountains on three sides, about an hour by bus from Waikiki.
I taught my classes Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and went to the Real Estate School on Monday and Wednesday in the evenings. I remember getting up at 5 A.M. in my Waikiki studio to make the 6:00 A.M. bus so as to be on time for the 8:00 A.M. English 100. I taught my classes until about 2:30 P.M., then I took a two and a half hour bus ride to Manoa for my 6:00 P.M. real estate class, and then after the lecture, I’d wait for the last 9:30 P.M. bus to Waikiki—often in a fine drizzle as Manoa is a very wet neighborhood when the sun is not shining, and the bus stop bench did not have a roof in 1986 unlike today. I’d get home about 11:00 P.M. and spend the next day studying for the State Real Estate Exam.
I obtained my Real Estate Associate’s License in April of 1987; thus began my second career in tandem with my teaching of English Language and Literature at Leeward Community College. I joined a Century-21 office in Kahala kitty corner across from the Kahala Mall. I remember once while cold-calling the home owners in that neighborhood, I spoke to Cheryl Ladd of Charlie’s Angels fame, and I didn’t even tell her how much of a crush I had on her when I was in High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I managed to secure a couple of listings in that upscale area, but neither sold despite of my best effort.
So now back to my French acquaintance at Kailua Beach in 1988. When I told him that I was working in the immovable property market, he told me that he may need someone to take care of his house for the summer—by this he meant that he wanted a renter as I found out later. In the meantime, I invited him to an open house that I was to hold at my listing on Papu Circle in a Diamond Head neighborhood. It was a modest house which in my enthusiasm combined with my lack of experience I overpriced by about $400,000.00—probably the reason I got the listing in the first place.
Pierre Brisard came to the open house the next day with his wife Mikiko—a Japanese National aged between 35-40 years—a mother of the Japanese boy, Pierre’s son—a remarkable child, fluent in Japanese, French, and English by the time he will have attained the age of 15 a few years hence from the scene described; Pierre wanted to secure a future in the Foreign Service for his son, and the child’s trilingual education went a long way to secure that future in any country where the child will have eventually chosen to reside.
Pierre invited me to his house in Kailua, a 3-bedroom on a golf-course at the end of a Cul de Sac that he bought in 1987 for $185,000.00 in cash—Pierre tried to get a loan from the Bank of Hawaii, but his application was refused because he had no credit history; of course no one can argue with cash. As I write in 2010—the house is worth about a million dollars.
Pierre offered to rent the house to me for the summer at $1,100 a month, and as I needed a decent place for Jodi G., I wrote the agreement and we signed it. At that time I did not know that these would be the best lodgings that I would have in my life. In the evenings, I sat in the living room at a writing table with a table lamp facing the tepid and fragrant June air coming from an open jalousie window and pressed the keys of my manual Brother typewriter that I kept from my college days—the early 1980’s. On either side of the L shaped living room stood large antique bookcases with many hundred-year-old volumes in French, Spanish, and English. When I read these books, I would take a break at times to listen to the quiet. In the mornings, I would walk out into the back yard and pick up the golf balls that landed there under the coconut palm the previous day.
When the girl of my dreams arrived in Honolulu, she asked me to drive her from the airport to the beach, even though it was after sunset; when she took my photo with a flash in the darkness, I knew immediately that she did not intend to stay. During the days that followed, Jodi was a natural attraction at the beach. Once at Kailua Beach, as I made short runs on my windsurfing board in moderate wind near the shore, my guest lay on the yellow sand under the evergreen iron-wood trees; in a course of an hour, she was approached by what seemed like every single Kaneohe Marine Base marine on leave and taking a walk on the beach; each of these would-be-suitors with military regulation buzz-cuts struck up a conversation with her. To her credit, she would point in my direction to brush off these ardent admirers. It was not easy for a heterosexual male to feign indifference towards her when she wore a bikini.
Jodi stayed at the house about 3 weeks in her own separate bedroom, and never gave me as much as a kiss on a cheek; then she found a job in Waikiki as a waitress at the Trattoria Manzo, and asked me to drive her there with her suitcases which I did. Upon returning to Brooklyn, she sent me an envelope full of photos of our hikes to the top of Diamond Head and to Paradise Park.
Had it not been for my fantasy of attaining that physically beautiful young woman from Brooklyn, I doubt I would’ve tried renting such a “dacha,” but as it turned out this was an arrangement that worked out for five summers running with Pierre giving me discounted rent starting with the second summer.
We became friends—I had a chance to practice French conversation in his living room as Mikiko brought us Arare snacks—the conversation topics ranged from politics to literature to life experiences; he talked about his service in the desert of North Africa during the Second World War—he vividly described the heat and the sand fleas compounding the misery of heat.
After the war he worked as a diplomat, with his last station prior to retirement being Japan where he met and married his wife when he was in his advanced years and she still a teenager. He showed me photos of the Kimono Wedding—where he looked older than the bride’s father. When I met him in 1988, he told me that he was 76—his official age as long as I knew him.
I think it was 1989, when Pierre invited me to visit his chateau not far from Paris, but the enthusiastic, profit-minded idiot that I was, I declined the offer because real estate business and my teaching obligations had gained a solid hold of me by that time when I was just 29 years old. I never visited Pierre in France. He did visit my parents in New York, however; in a photo album, there is a photo of him with his wife and son and my parents standing in front of the Odessa restaurant in Little Odessa in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. My parents liked the Frenchman.
Pierre always marveled at my ability with the French language considering my limited exposure to it (3 semesters officially and one unofficially in Wisconsin in 1983-84, and one semester in Hawaii in 1986). He attributed my facility to something supernatural; I believe that he thought that I was a reincarnation of his son from his first marriage—the son who died in a car accident decades ago.
Pierre’s wife Mikiko did not like me or my parents, and when my parents moved to Hawaii in 1994, we lost touch with the Brisards.
In 1999, three years after my father’s death, my mother and I were in the Enchanted Lake Neighborhood of Kailua; we decided, on a whim to drive a block and a half to see the house—there was a For Sale sign on it, and it appeared deserted. Pierre loved Hawaii, and he never wanted to sell the house while Mikiko hated living in Hawaii and did not like the United States and often said so. I conjectured that Pierre must have died, and Mikiko probably left for her native Japan taking her son with her.
Pierre was a good man, and he treated me well just because I spoke his native language. I will always remember him fondly.