it happened one night

On Tuesday, March 11th, at 7:00 P.M., I was at the Manoa Valley Theatre, marveling at the size of the crowd. Bamboo Ridge’s 30th anniversary "roast and toast" was about to start, and I had never seen so many people at a Bamboo-Ridge-only event. Every nametag seemed familiar; either I instantly recognized the person or there was a vague sense of "Was their story in Best of Bamboo Ridge or Growing Up Local?" Roasters/toasters included Lee Tonouchi and Lois-Ann Yamanaka, while others read emails/letters sent by people who could not attend. In all, seventeen people spoke and more than a hundred attended to watch co-founders and co-editors Darrell Chock and Eric Lum squirm on stage.

I have known Darrell and Eric for about a year, a number that pales in comparison to most people’s experiences with the dauntless duo. Barbara Kagen, their high school calculus teacher at McKinley, kicked off the night by talking about the "prodigal son and the elder brother" (and if you can’t figure out which is the elder brother, look for the one without the ponytail). Later, Mavis Hara read Sylvia Watanabe’s letter, which exposed the fifty-year-old Bamboo Ridge plot to take over the world, and its roots at that hotbed of political intrigue known as Ma’ema’e Elementary School. Mae Lum and Ghislaine Chock, respective wives of Darrell and Eric, both spoke of Bamboo Ridge as a person. Mae Lum recounted nights spent poring over its layout, panicking when its words fell off the table. Ghislaine Chock remembered how she overheard Eric talking to Bamboo Ridge in the middle of the night: "That one? How many? Five dollars. What’s your address? I can deliver." She had wondered, "Who was Bamboo and why was it so important to call so late at night?"

At some point it occurred to me that the coordinator of the roast/toast was fiendishly inspired: a math teacher, wives, what could be next? Only a "surprise" roaster, of course! Tony Lee bounded onto the stage just steps before John Heckathorn, the next planned speaker. According to Lee, there was a legal grievance to air before the crowd: as a student at UH, he had told Darrell about Bamboo Ridge, the historic fishing spot near Hanauma Bay. Darrell used it for his newly launched literary magazine and never acknowledged the source. At the end, he handed Darrell and Eric two envelopes with their names written in bold black ink on the front; presumably legal papers but hopefully the parties will be able to settle out of court.

Then it was finally time for John Heckathorn, who started the trend of calling the Bamboo boys "old futs". He described Eric as going from a "young radical to a retrograde old fut without a single moment of respectability". Marie Hara read Steven Sumida’s letter, in which Sumida laments, "we know from the way they still act that Darrell and Eric are doomed never to understand or appreciate how everyone born after 1980 actually thinks of them as OLD FUTS". Lois-Ann Yamanaka accused Heckathorn of stealing her "old fut" thunder, an obvious impossibility because if there is someone whose thunder can’t be stolen, it is Yamanaka: "without Darrell and Eric, there would be no me … and I forty-six years old and no more mortgage!" Amalia Bueno read Zack Linmark’s chain haikus on "two old futs", which included: "From the heart / Two old futs / make us proud". Lee Cataluna’s email (read by Lisa Kanae) gave a specific example of Darrell’s comparative age … and his wise acceptance of his years … when she reminisced about reading "Da Beer Can Hat" in school: "Every time I tell the story in public about how I remember being in elementary school reading Beer Can Hat and thinking it was the most amazing thing I had ever read, Darrell gets all mad and says, ‘YOU WASN’T IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL! I NOT THAT OLD!’"

For all the jokes regarding their "venerableosity" (one of Lee Tonouchi’s excellent neologisms), the fearless leaders … and therefore Bamboo Ridge … don’t seem that old. At the end, Darrell and Eric rummaged through a box of gifts for the presenters, looking like two kids opening a new toy or giggling over their next prank. To honor Cedric Yamanaka, they played paper football on stage. Nora Keller revealed their well-honed strategy to nurture budding writers in workshop: Eric’s only question was "Is this … local literature?" while Darrell asked the "most maniniest question" like "Can you really see your own butt?" Not quite what one would expect from the co-founders and co-editors of "one of the longest-running noncommercial presses in the nation" (Honolulu Star-Bulletin editorial, 03/07/08).

Which brings us to Milton Murayama’s question, as voiced by Keith Kashiwada: "So … why Eric and Darrell not rich?" The fate of Bamboo Ridge’s world domination plot provides a possible answer: "Anyone with any serious plans at taking over the planet doesn’t begin by launching a literary magazine". However, over 850 foot soldiers and 90 manifestos (soon to be 91!) has shown that the "success of the dark plot has been slow but sure". Personally, it is still mind-boggling to realize how much Darrell and Eric have accomplished with little resources and little time. When I called Bamboo Ridge to ask about their work/volunteer opportunities, I asked for human resources and received a long pause from Eric in return. I had just joined countless bookstores, reporters, and other inquirers in assuming that "the godfathers of local literature" would have an office somewhere, and wouldn’t need to advertise the editor’s home number. (At least I didn’t call in the middle of the night.) Lee Tonouchi’s poem noted, "pretty soon they going make … but they lucky". I think countless writers and readers alike would argue over who was luckier: Darrell and Eric, or the people who have been influenced by Bamboo Ridge.

Lois-Ann Yamanaka remembered Darrell saying, "Until you see your name in literature, you don’t exist". So thank you, Darek and Errel (or is that Errel and Darek?) for doing much more than merely existing for the last thirty years. In another thirty years, they’ll be eighty, but Lee Cataluna’s last statement will apply even then: "Even though they’re old farts, they still get ’em!"

(Note: in college I studied English, not Journalism, so all quotes are as accurate as possible considering I was scribbling madly in longhand, in real time.)

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