• Otter Views: When Pink Was Big

    A Serengeti-sized herd of puffy clouds migrating across the dawn sky Tuesday created a “bed of coals” sunrise so colorful it woke me up. As the clouds morphed from pearl gray to fiery pink, they reminded me of a curious sight from childhood.

    For a time in the mid-1950s, the industrialist Henry J. Kaiser maintained among his several residences a shoreline estate on the east end of Oahu. Tall fences discouraged gawking from the land side, but the “Kaiser mansion” could be seen from surf breaks just offshore.

    Thus, long before psychedelics, neighborhood surfers beheld a wondrous sight: large pink poodles cavorting on a bright green lawn. When we reported this phenomenon to our parents, we learned the poodles had been dyed at the behest of Mrs. Kaiser, who loved pink.

    The poodles weren’t as numerous as Tuesday morning’s clouds, but they were bright enough to be seen from afar. Even from a half-mile away, you’d be riding a wave along the reef and pink poodles would come into view, reclining on the estate’s lawn like a flock of fairy tale sheep.

    These days, such wanton dog-dyeing might prompt recriminations from PETA or the SPCA, but this was 1955. If Mrs. Kaiser wanted pink poodles, she could have pink poodles. In fact, she and Henry J. could pretty much have pink anything, and so they did.

    I should point out here that Kaiser was no garden-variety millionaire. He was a magnate. His West Coast cement plants and “victory ships” had helped win World War Two, and one of the nation’s premiere health care systems bears his name. He even manufactured for a few years an odd-looking car modestly named “The Henry J.”

    After the war and the car, Kaiser fixed his steely gaze upon Hawaii, a sleepy U.S. territory soon to be electro-shocked awake by the advent of statehood. Like capitalist titans before him and many others to follow, Kaiser looked at Hawaii and saw what wasn’t there yet. Where there were fishponds, he saw suburbs. Where there were reefs, he saw marinas. Where there were beaches, he saw hotels. And everywhere, he saw pink.

    On the color wheel, this pink fell somewhere between Porky Pig and Pepto-Bismol; between Pinky Lee’s bow tie and Kim Novak’s cashmere sweater. Distinctive enough to have its own color mix number, “Kaiser Pink” soon proliferated throughout the Oahu of my childhood.

    Before Kaiser arrived, the Territory had two big pink structures: the Royal Hawaiian Hotel and Tripler Army Hospital. To see other pinks, one had to look to nature; to tropical plants and flowers; guavas and grapefruits; sunrises and sunsets; feathers on parakeets and stripes on reef fish.

    Post-Kaiser, pink spread to an unlikely array of vehicles, objects and artifacts. All over Honolulu, pink construction cranes, pink dump trucks, pink bulldozers and pink pile drivers built pink hotels. A fleet of pink catamarans plied the limpid waters off Waikiki. Tourists visiting Kaiser’s Hawaiian Village hotel rode to their rooms in pink jitneys, wore pink bathrobes, rented pink surfboards from the beach boys.

    Elsewhere, Kaiser’s pink dredges were busily chewing up reefs, marshes and fish ponds to create a whole new city of 50,000 on the island’s east end. As planned, canals feeding into a grand marina would give boat owners of this tropical Venice speedy access to water skiing, ocean sailing, snorkeling and reef fishing.

    As it happened, the industrialist’s dream city got built, but the construction silt turned the surrounding ocean into an undersea graveyard. It was one of the few instances where Kaiser’s tenure caused the color pink to diminish. Pink fish, pink shrimp, pink corals and pink anemones all vanished from the area.

    As Kaiser’s new city was rising from the marshland, he dispatched one pink dredge to carve a marina into the reef off his mansion. Over the course of several months, the dredge methodically tore up the reef, pulverized the coral and spat it out as a slurry. Pumped ashore through a floating pipeline, the crushed coral became the pad for the magnate’s personal boat house.

    The floating pipeline, meanwhile, became a shortcut to the surf for neighborhood kids. Clutching our flippers and foam “kick boards” (this was pre-Boogie), we’d clamber atop the pipes at the boat house end, extend our arms for balance, then walk seaward toward the distant dredge.

    As incoming waves lifted, dropped and twisted them, the seaweed-slick pipes clanked and swayed beneath us, occasionally bucking us off. If we managed to stay on, our bare feet registered the hum and buzz of the coral slurry racketing toward shore. And if we made it all the way out to the dredge, we might see the crew smoking and playing cards in their little deck house.

    Then we’d dive off the pipeline, don our flippers, point our kick boards shoreward and catch a wave. Looking up, we’d see poodles as pink as a flock of clouds at sunrise.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on February 24, 2014

    Topics: Otter Views

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