Monday morning in Waipahu

Brothers Wesley and Jonathan Nagaseu visit the grave of their father, Filemoni, in Pearl City. (photo: Paul Honda)

It’s steamy, sticky mid-morning in Waipahu. Vog has blanketed the island for days and nobody’s in a great mood.

I pull into a certain well-known eatery. Can’t say it’s a local favorite, but it’s there in the middle of Y-Pahu. The cashier is a bit gruff, but quick and nice enough.

“Hash brown? That’s all?”

I’m waiting for the Nagaseu brothers, who live down the road a few blocks. We’ll eat together in a few minutes, so a hash brown is sufficient. Then I hear someone calling me from several feet away. It’s an elderly Polynesian woman, white hair, sitting on a chair with a box full of stuff.

Fancy chocolate. In squarish boxes. The kind we used to sell for band and sports fundraisers. I don’t even ask for the price as I walk to her.

“Crispy and this one is almonds,” she says.

I let her know that I’m waiting for friends. Maybe after breakfast I’ll get them some candy. She lets me go. I scan the rest of the strip mall. Two, not one, but two Filipino restaurants. One I’ve eaten at before. It was awesome.

Not even 15 seconds pass and a man in a truck calls me over. What now?

“You watch movies?”

Not really. I go to movies, I inform him, but of the last 50 DVDs I’ve bought, maybe 10 have been broken out of the case at all.

“Five dollars, this is high quality. You should buy this. Good deal!”

He’s not a salesman. He’s borderline playground bully. I guess my wrinkly aloha shirt and old cargo shorts and rubber slippers classify me as “prey”. I tell him the truth. I don’t have any money. There’s a few dollars in my wallet.

“Four dollars, then.”

I’m not buying any DVDs. He still insists that I watch a Jet Li flick on his little DVD player, located right above his radio. Sorry. Not a big action flick fan, too. Unless you count Midnight Run as ‘action’.

But we get along OK. And I notice a “CASH ONLY” sign above the eatery’s window. That’s a problem. I ask Miss Gruffy where the closest ATM is. She can’t hear me and walks closer to the window. I repeat myself, and the Candy Lady yells, “ATM is over there!” while pointing across the street.

She knows her business. I go to the ATM. It asks if I want to use English or Spanish. No mas. No Spanish here, though I wish I’d taken that class in college instead of Latin.

After I get some cash — that $3.25 fee is ridiculous — an ambulance siren wails in the distance. They turn left into the street I’m on and park next door. A few minutes later, a big yellow fire truck follows.

I give the sit-down area a look on the way to the restroom. A dozen or so men are there, talking story in Chuukese. Or Palauan. (They sound like the guys who I used to play basketball with at Ala Wai Park in the 1980s.) Older men, middle-aged men and a few younger gents. Nobody’s eating or drinking a thing. But they’re relaxed. Nobody’s pushing them out.

The Nagaseus and assistant coach Bronson Carvalho arrive shortly after that. They decide they don’t want to sit there for the interview. We head to a quieter place. Air-conditioned. Quiet. Then I remember something one of the brothers had said the day before about their street. About the area.

“It’s too ghetto.”

Maybe. Maybe not. But if that place had great food, I wouldn’t care. Seriously. Some of my favorite restaurants are in nondescript or forgettable locations. But I’m not looking for exceptional sights. I want a good breakfast. And a transparent interview. Not necessarily in that order.

WE SKIP IT. No breakfast. The boys had eaten. Their younger brother, Dallas, had cooked for them. Coach wasn’t hungry. Neither was I. The hash brown was generic, something you can buy from the store, but it did the job for a couple of hours, proving that anything covered with ketchup and salt can be decent.

The boys jump into Coach’s car and lead me to campus, where we have an hour-long interview. I was planning on 15 minutes, but there’s enough time to go longer. To expand on what little I know about their football achievements. About their father. About the future without him.

Next: Nagaseu Brothers, video interview

Paul Honda, Star-Advertiser


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