Having a great time, wish you weren’t here

“It’s the #1 killer of joy on Hawaiian vacations.”

“It’s nice and everything, but our room looks out on the parking lot,” she said.

“Well, it’s not really a parking lot, right?” I replied. “It’s more like a porte-cochère, where you can unload and valet your car. Plus, how can you even see it through all of the tropical trees and plants?”

This wasn’t “not seeing the forest for the trees”; it was not even seeing the trees.

After Mr. Brooks and CPOS picked Sarah and me up at the airport that Friday, they announced a surprise: We would be staying at The Royal Hawaiian, while they had taken what would have been our room at the Sheraton Waikiki next door. We were delighted but, once in our room, wondered about the incentive for such a magnanimous gesture.

We figured it out later that night, when we met them for drinks at their room … on the second-to-highest floor, with a private balcony that opened to an ocean view. (It became our late-afternoon gathering point to watch the sun plummet with amazing speed out of horizon’s view. Click on the thumbnail of this or any other photo to bring up the full-size photo in a new window.)

Not that our room was shabby, by any means; Sarah and I agreed that we thought we got the better end of the deal, even without a sunset-ocean view. Our room may have looked out onto a shaded courtyard — no sunsets (and no sunrises, either) — but we appreciated the little touches, like the rich-looking pineapple-print foil wallpaper and the two free bottles of water they delivered each day during housekeeping. We unpacked our suitcases almost immediately in preparation for 10 days of delight. (That’s our room on Day 3, above, and an early-afternoon view from our window at left.) The trees swayed rhythmically with the breeze, the leaves quaked and rattled, and the pedestrians on the pathways below were suitably respectful in their volume levels, so we had no complaints at all.

The Sister did, however. Well, not really a complaint so much as an unending tendency to discuss all the negatives. No, there was nothing wrong with her room; she just thought that the view would, you know, be nicer, especially since Mr. Brooks had such a great one. She suspected that she was being passed over.

Sometimes she was: One night our server at the bar took orders for everyone at the table but missed her completely. But The Sister is the sort of person who, rather than jumping up and catching the server, will sit there not-so-quietly bemoaning her fate of being overlooked, to everyone at the table. Eventually I got up on my crutches and hobbled down to the server to add her drink to our order.

OK, so it wasn’t “eventually” — it was right away, because (a) I was able to catch the server before she placed the order with the bar staff, so we could get The Sister’s drink at the same time as everyone else’s, and (b) I was damned if I was going to listen to more complaining. When I got back to the table, The Sister was still going: “I know I have the sort of voice that doesn’t carry well, but I don’t understand why she just ignored me. I mean, what else can I do?”

Earlier in the trip, I had decided that this sort of behavior was unacceptable on my watch, and I had spent an entire day and night playing The Sister’s best friend and personal cheerleader: Let’s discuss things! Let’s reframe viewpoints! I bet I can turn that frown upside-down! By the end of the night I had her singing “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” in a gay-dive karaoke bar while Mr. Brooks twirled Sarah in the alley entryway.

I was stellar, she was diverted, and Mr. Brooks so appreciated my efforts that the following night at one of his favorite restaurants — The Shore Bird, where you “get” to grill your own food, a concept I despise — he cooked my steak for me. (Usually, the minutes I stand seething at the cooktop just make his meal that much more delicious to him.)

It comes naturally to me but it is also exhausting, and the next day when The Sister showed no signs of improvement, I decided that she, not others, should be responsible for her happiness or lack thereof.

I started off slowly: When she kept bringing up how much she’d like to eat at a particular restaurant, I called the place and checked if we could get a table for 11 people, then told her: “The only time they can get in the whole party tomorrow is at 8:45. If that’s not too late, you can call and make the reservation.” The next morning, The Sister asked Mr. Brooks: “Did Sam call and make that reservation?” Mr. Brooks, who had witnessed the previous night’s exchange, replied: “No, Sam did not.”

So by the bar incident, my sympathy was running dangerously low, and Sarah and I were playing a game we called “What Would The Sister Say?” in which we would stop what we were doing — sunbathing, shopping, eating in a restaurant, whatever — and challenge the other person to channel The Sister’s negative-Nelly attitude and harp about a minuscule less-than-ideal element in our situation. (“I just thought there’d be more sailboats” was my contribution to the above photo.)

The last day, we ran into The Sister’s family on the sidewalk and she mentioned that she was still looking for a memento for herself. She had seen a pendant in a couple of shops, but it was $200 and she was sure it wasn’t actually worth that much —

“Did you try negotiating with them?” I interrupted, already irritated. “Your niece did that on a bracelet and got about 1/3 of the price knocked off.”

Oh, no — she had seen the pendant for the same price at two different places, so that probably meant they wouldn’t negotiate. And back to harping about worth and being ripped off.

“You know, even if it’s not technically worth what you pay for it, there’s added value in its ability to commemorate the trip,” I said. “Every time you wear it, you’ll feel good about your vacation, and that’s immeasurable.”

Then she launched into a discussion about how she never wants to be ripped off, and how if something is expensive but she knows it’s worth it, she doesn’t have a problem paying. “I have some Yogo sapphires that I bought for $200, and I know they’re worth it,” she said.

I hadn’t heard the term “Yogo sapphires” since I left Montana two decades ago; it’s an attempt to distinguish the stones that are mined in a particular area of the state. Just like any other gem, there are high-quality ones and low-quality ones, and the Yogo name isn’t a guarantee of greatness. But I did not say anything, I just kept quiet while she went on about Yogo sapphires, Yogo sapphires value, Yogo sapphires, Yogo sapphires, including one where somehow or another they etched the coordinates of a Montana town onto the Yogo sapphire.

“Well, you’re not going to find Yogo sapphires here,” I said, finally snapping out of my ignore-ance. “So you’re going to have to find something else. Maybe it’s not jewelry. Maybe it’s not even tropical-themed. I bought a pair of sunglasses in San Diego, and every time I wear them, it reminds me of the trip.”

“Well, I want something that has sea turtles on it … ” she said, and that’s when I turned and walked away. “Good luck,” I said over my shoulder. “You’ve got about six hours.”

“She’s never going to find anything she likes,” Sarah said when we were out of earshot. “You’re absolutely right,” I replied, “and she’s going to make everyone miserable while she’s looking, which is why I had to get away.”

For our last hours, meanwhile, Sarah and I took one last stroll down Waikiki Beach, snapping surreptitious photos of hot boys to send to Tyra Sanchez back in Phoenix, who had requested one photo per day. (We saw the buff guy at right marching along pretty much every day we spent time on the public beach.) We also took a few last shots of Waikiki from the eastern reach of the beach before we started walking back down toward our hotel. We stopped for one last meal at the udon noodles place we had come to love — not just because it was delicious but also because a bowl of noodles was $3.75. (I took extraordinary pleasure in ordering the bukkake udon, because I am a 13-year-old at heart.) We also snapped the photo at right to send to Mr. Brooks and CPOS, whose last meal before the airport had not been from the udon place, as they had hoped, but rather at the tourist trap Duke’s, because The Sister had wanted one last slice of “hula pie” (recipe and photo here.)

Luckily, he didn’t hate us enough to not pick us up at the airport in Phoenix when we landed.  Then again, that may have been because he needed a ride back to the airport that night …

WHAT SAM WORE: 12-31-11
The sweater: Olive long-sleeved cotton pullover from Gap.
The shorts: Corduroy cut-offs from Lucky Brand, Chandler Fashion Center.
The shoes: Sneakers by Puma, my Christmas gift from Big Booty Judy.
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