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  Field Notes From
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From Author

Tom O’Neill

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From Photographer

Jodi Cobb

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Jodi Cobb

image: starfish
In Waimanalo, Hawaii

Field Notes From Author
Tom O’Neill
The lifeguards at the Waimanalo beaches are justly renowned. They are tan, muscled, superbly fit, and they save lives. One day I hung around the lifeguards’ tower at Sherwood Forest Beach to see the red-trunked men in action. Out on the water body-boarders were riding the surf. Suddenly there was a shout of pain. A distressed mother and her young son ran from the water. The lifeguard on duty straightened up and climbed down the tower to deal with the emergency. Urgent words passed between him and the swimmers. Then he turned and pulled out a plastic spray bottle. His strong fingers pumped the lever and out squirted a homemade mixture of vinegar and meat tenderizer. “Thank you, thank you,” the mother and son said, rubbing the liquid on their legs and arms. Already the sting from the Portuguese man-of-war was abating. The lifeguard smiled: all part of the daily heroics. How bad can it get spending a week in a Hawaiian beach town? The worst thing? Let’s see: a mild sunburn? a water-soaked notebook? blisters from paddling a canoe? No, none of those. The worst moment arrived when I settled into an airplane seat and flew away. Most mornings in Waimanalo the tinny sounds of Broadway tunes drift down the streets. The music comes from a white van that is moving no faster than a blowing leaf. Children pour out front doors, calling for the driver to stop. It is the ice-cream man. Or so I thought.
One day a native Hawaiian friend and I joined the children at the van window. “Let me get you a treat,” the friend said. It wasn’t a Popsicle. He handed me a couple of buns wrapped in wax paper. “Here, have some manapua.” It’s a meat-filled sweet bun, Chinese fast food. When I peered through the window, I saw other plates of dumplings and eggrolls. “We love this stuff,” said the friend. The white van slowly drove away, the song “Memories” from Cats trailing behind. “He’ll be back,” the friend said. “He’s the Manapua Man.”

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