Son of a Hoarder


On Lewers Street in Waikiki, there was a hotel half-way down the street, between Kalia Street and Kalakaua Blvd. He lived there with his mother. The mouth of the road that fed the Sheraton Waikiki on the Makaha (North) side came out and in front of the hotel, simply called 260 Annex. It housed mostly residents. In one of the units down the hall from them, was a woman dying of leukemia. On the ground floor was a Chinese restaurant called House of Hong. Tourists would enter the Chinese style red-painted wood entrance to the restaurant. As a local, he would marvel at the implied wealth of men and women in business attire and laughter. In the cinderblock walled hallways was a plain blue carpet. He looked down at it and imagined how thick the padding must have been. The humidity and the temperature were the same as it was outside. The owners never air-conditioned the hallways, which led to stairwells on either end of the building. The cement stairwells were enclosed with glass windows, always open. You could see between the hotels and down into the narrow driveways. As he looked from the 8th floor, it made him queasy. Cars would either go up one floor from the ground level or down into the basement. He looked at how dirty the walls were; there were black lines and gashes he knew were caused by cars unable to negotiate the narrow lane.

Sometimes it rained, but usually only once a day. It would rain as close as across the street, get things a little wet, and then dry out almost as quickly. He either walked into the rain or waited until it cleared in the hallway fronting the street. It depended on what side of the street you were on and if you wanted to get wet. He would look into the knick knack store in the hallway to his right as he looked out into the street. The walls were a medium gloss white, glass, or in the case of the area near House of Hong, it was ornate. He would look into the restaurant at the bar, but in all the years he had lived in Hawaii, he never once ate there. In the last apartment on the top floor facing the beach, there was a three-balcony apartment. This was his mother’s place. The carpet was plain and blue too. He looked down thinking that it had probably never been cleaned.The walls were white and they felt thick, unshakable, and were made of solid cement. He never feared that they would fall. He hit them with his hand and it hurt. He stood inside of the threshold and shut the door. He felt embarrassed. On the inside wall, and to the left, was a black and white picture of him in a gray suit. He thought about his recent divorce. His pants were down in the image and he held a framed photograph of his ex-wife’s portrait, which he had taken. He liked plays within plays. His ex-wife wore a hat with a strap of fabric at the bottom of the crown. He looked at her and thought how much he loved her. She was a pretty Asian woman from Nicaragua. He knew those eyes. She was smiling. The picture was taken in almost the same place as it was hung. It was framed in a red frame with a turquoise matte with a black inner core. He had told his friend Jeff Fleischmann, a framer, what colors and types of materials he wanted. He turned to his right, passing the bathroom door. He thought how as soon as he took a shower, he was sweating again, and his clothes seemed wet too because of the heat and humidity. Everything inside was white or glass. The components of the bathroom were as old as the day they were installed. He continued turning toward his bedroom, the only one in the small suite. He realized that his mother had made a sacrifice for him to be in the room, but she needed him too, but he didn’t realize how much she needed him. The thought of this would haunt him for the rest of his life. His uncle and aunt had lived in the suite long before his mother. He could sense that she was acting weird with all the trash and things that were accumulating. He shared it with her since his divorce. She wouldn’t let him throw anything away and he pleaded with her. Just after the divorce, he moved into various shared situations, but in every case, his roommates made it nearly impossible. He remembered the bassist for the Honolulu Symphony, who was bipolar. The negative energy from this man affected him with oppressive rants. The energy was communicable. He couldn’t take it.

He installed lemon yellow carpet and painted the walls turquoise. He had always wanted to paint his walls another color than white. He put semi-transparent corrugated light green roof panels vertically to give him privacy from the hotel across the street, not actually knowing if, when the room was lit at night that the tourists across the way could see him. He worried about being seen naked.

He seldom went onto his balcony, in effect, closing himself off. He wasn’t happy about it but he wanted the look of the material. He suffered the scent of fiberglass and the stagnancy of the air due to the blocked windows. In the balcony next to his, also facing Lewers Street, his mother stored a number of decrepit corrugated boxes that contained baskets she had made, plastic-covered natural fiber supported by stiff wood. He remembered her making them when he was a kid. The baskets had fabric interiors and lights on the outside that were connected to a flashlight inside that provided electricity. He would switch the lights on and off. The last time he checked the boxes they housed various generations of pigeons and cockroaches, from translucent or opaque eggs to death. He remembered his step father loading a truck with his mother’s belongings. His mother married, moved twice to the continental US for no longer than a year, and then moved back because her marriages or relationships would end. This was because of extra-relational affairs on the part of her boyfriends or husbands or because of alcohol and/or abuse. He had trimmed all the plants in the planters near the front door to reflect a Japanese garden, which pissed off his step-father, for example. His step-father fought against the Japanese in WWII.

Inside his room was a red plywood desk that he had cut in an organic shape and nailed into a tree stump that looked like a woman’s torso turned upside-down. He liked how closely it resembled female anatomy. Affixed to the other end of the table was a long glass stalactite that reached the floor. It was supposed to represent sperm. This was from his one-man photography show at the University of Hawaii at Manoa that incorporated the desk as well as a chair made of a black-painted metal rod in the shape of a Bienal Emmanuelle Chair, like a giant fan. It wasn’t comfortable to sit on although he cut out a piece of wood that served as a seat. On the desk, was the same manual typewriter that he had in the show and on the turquoise walls was a black and white picture of a man in drag. He framed the image he got from a colleague, who would later print images in Manhattan for such greats as Andres Serrano, who did ‘Piss Christ.’ There were foam-core, life-size cut outs of people in various poses (no detail) with out-stretched arms and arched backs. He leaned them against the walls. 

He stood for a moment before going into his room. It was hot in the room and the colors vibrated with tension. He looked at the wooden lattice that blocked his gaze into his mother’s area, the ‘living room’ of the small suite. The lattice was covered with fabric so he couldn’t see in, but he knew what was on the other side. A white Vienna style vinyl sofa with paneled arms that she had re-upholstered. Previously, it was covered in a soft, satiny, wool, paisley-patterned, white-on-white fabric. There was a white, early American table with inlaid, mother-of pearl top. He would hit his shins against it when it was in an open room. He knew too of white vinyl chairs somewhere hidden in the mess. His mother’s bed was just inside to the right in front of the closet that was filled with her clothes. There were many visitor magazine sheets in the room with sharpie and ball-point pen jottings. This habit would follow her for the rest of her life as she kept notes on advertisements and other printed matter. There were two small jagged trails through the morass to each of the balconies, both of which were piled high with cardboard boxes. He imagined what people thought of them as they could see them from balconies in hotel rooms in front and to the right. These were filled with belongings and covered with various blankets. With a breeze, the blankets would shift and expose the newspapers and various household things. He thought how her life seemed to be put on hold. 

She would smoke on the balcony in a corner covered with rope and faux ivy, plastic flowers, a fake parrot, a large ashtray, and a rod-iron ice cream chair painted white. Those chairs he remembered were always in the family and had been painted any number of colors: white, yellow, black, pink… She smoked her cigarettes and looked toward the ocean, which you could make out through a break between the Cinerama Reef and Halikulani Hotel. It wasn’t far, about half a block, and he would take his surfboard and paddle out to Three’s or Popular’s mostly.

The kitchen in the suite was about seven feet in and three feet wide in the walkway.  It was small and dirty. There were cabinets above and below counter tops that housed a small stove and oven. There were four stove elements. The kitchen felt cramped. To the left was a small sink. There were tens of cockroaches either walking around the floors and counters or they were hidden. At night when he turned on the light, they would scurry. At times, they even entered the refrigerator and walked around because it was never cold enough to deter them and the seams were old and uneven. This sickened him and would be one of the reasons he left Hawaii. His mother kept hamburger meat that she ate raw and simply put in the refrigerator exposed, she couldn’t afford plastic wrap. He never liked this. There were always open containers containing previous meals covered in pamphlets or card stock papers she would collect from the visitor shelves in the various hotel lobbies. He remembered them as brochures about tourist destinations or tours. She used them as stationary.


  1. Well-written descriptions. You are an observer of details. I like the way you describe objects, buildings, materials…, and how all this is connected with the feelings of oppression, shame and uneasiness of the male character. To me his mother clings too much onto material things such as the cardboard boxes and the pen jottings because life somehow escapes her as a result of failed love relationships. If she cannot have any of these men at least she can keep her belongings, so she becomes a hoarder. Thks for sharing this story.

  2. A world we can visualize, touch, hear, taste. The details build one on top of another to create an atmosphere that is believable and pertinent. Here’s some of detail I noticed most:

    The picture was taken in almost the same place as it was hung. It was framed in a red frame with a turquoise matte with a black inner core. He had told his friend Jeff Fleischmann, a framer, what colors and types of materials he wanted. He turned to his right, passing the bathroom door. He thought how as soon as he took a shower, he was sweating again, and his clothes seemed wet too because of the heat and humidity. Everything inside was white or glass.

    I envy the pointed, poignant pen of an artist.

  3. Pingback: Son of a Hoarder – Words Words Words

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