My 8th grade English teacher, Mrs. Bramlett, was a formidable woman, one who could keep my ADD mouth shut the entire hour. So it was kind of surprising when she called me to her desk and said to me, sub voce, "I couldn't give this book to just anyone in this class. But I think you have the maturity to understand and appreciate it, and the discretion to keep this between us". With that, she handed me a paperback copy of James Michener's "Hawaii" for my reading assignment. It's a big book, and while not salacious by current standards an 8th grade teacher in Orange County, California in 1965 could have gotten some flack for giving it to a 13 year old. It was my first introduction to the state, and its images would form a part of my perception for the rest of my life, and not just the parts that were "helpful" to my young libido.
Blessing Bird was the first Hawaiian I ever met, in 1970. I'll tell it straight-Boise State (Tony Knapp) was the first to recruit Polynesians en masse. BYU can honi ko'u 'elemu. Bird was dating one of my high school friends, and by him hanging around I got to meet ALL the Hawaiians. That's how they rolled; they didn't care if it was Harvard or Bakersfield City College, 'long as there were homies there. I first heard the word "haole"( derogatory term for white) at that time, but not from Blessing-I never heard him say a word. All I need to tell you about Blessing was that the other Hawaiians were very, very careful with him. Which is saying something, 'cuz these were all big, tough, crazy dudes. But Blessing had a gear even most Hawaiians couldn't get to, and thankfully he kept it confined to the playing field. He was a relentless, quick D-lineman, and I see him in my mind all up and down the line but mostly DT. I find no accolades or records for him from the day, but we were not just new, we were "raw", and getting no attention anywhere from anybody.
About the Hawaiians-Jim Croce's line "you don't pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger", well, you could add, in Boise in those days, "you don't mess with the Hawaiians". Just flat absolutely do not do it. If crossed and angry, it would not matter if you weighed 120 lbs. and had arms like spaghetti strands-you were toast. I'll relate 2 incidents infra, one a close call, one worse.
Ron Autele was Samoan rather than Hawaiian, but it was a distinction without meaning. Ron was a big dude, and the polar opposite of Kellen Moore. Ron could run with a fullback's momentum and, unlike Kellen. would generally do so after his first "read", if he "read" at all. With a strong arm, but not exactly pin-point accuracy, Ron could get the job done, and did. His combined yardage in several games would rival many of the QBs at Boise State. I had a close call with him; at the Bronco Hut I made a reference to blacks and surfing ( I had seen blacks doing that at Huntington pier, a daring act). Ron took offense, and intended to take more. Luckily for me, Ken Carter, a black martial artist who was teaching Ron kung fu, knew and liked me. He told Ron to chill; Ron did. The next, and last, time I saw him he was QB for the WFL's Philadelphia Bell, characteristically taking off on a pass play to mow down some LBs.
"Toots" Kaahani-I already looked up his real first name once before, ain't doin' it again. As I've said, everyone knew Toots in the day-he was a blast. Disclosure-I have no memory of him as a player; none. I've racked my brain but nothing comes. I played b-ball with Toots; the Hawaiians were gym rats and played it to keep in shape, stay flexible, but weren't into it. I was a lousy dribbler; Toots made me look like "Curly" of the Harlem Globetrotters. My best friend Tom and I called each other "T", and the Hawaiians picked up on it, putting an odd inflection on it that made it seem exotic. Tom was very good, and I was ok, and the Hawaiians would encourage us and approve our efforts with shouts of "T", Toots loudest among them.
Saia Misa was an LB, a "thinking man's" LB in the fashion I would ascribe to Tommy Nobis, or perhaps Mike Singletary 2 generations later. Mobile, responsive, his style fit our D as most teams played us on the run-run concept, keep our O benched, conservatively looking to wear us out. Ironically, despite this, I remember his QB hits more; the "red dog" style blitz that would never be attempted now was pretty much the deal then, a deep MLB launching at the snap. I have a hard time even remembering it, but not Saia, who had a menacing Fu Manchu, perfectly groomed in the fashion, to go along with his baleful countenance. For all that, I found him to be an introspective, deferential man. I recall talking to him at a party after his playing days were over. He had obviously moved on, and seemed distant, amused by my questions, but disengaged, as if we were talking about events from 30 years ago (it was less than 2 years after he had played). He had class, pure and simple.
Wish I could say the same about Claude Tomasini. I had my only accounting class with Claude, and we would nod in recognition whenever we ran across each other, as we did at one night at Pandora's Box (now a Chinese restaraunt next to the Downtowner hotel). I was walking behind him outside when he grabbed a guy walking ahead of him, turned him around, and punched him straight in the face. I yelled "Claude, what's the problem?" whereupon one of his friends (not a Hawaiian) landed a punch on my jaw (you can still see the effect). A melee ensued. I never found out what set him off. I mentioned the incident to our accounting prof, who startled me by suggesting we get a band of guys together and kick his head in (I swear this on my grave). The guy Claude hit was half his size, and in no way had given Claude any reason to hurt him. I still see the startled look he had when Claude grabbed him.
By now I hope the readership understands that my journal is not historical, but impressionistic, sort of a Tim Woodward random look back. My aim is to capture a certain sense of it all, a time and place unknown to many of you but whose radiowaves still reverberate in some small sector. Those emanations are turning golden now, and more and more I sense the warmth I shall feel when at last I step into them.