A July 19 sunrise in Maleakahana. • Photo by Bob Shimabukuro
A July 19 sunrise in Maleakahana. • Photo by Bob Shimabukuro

“It’s guys like you that put Nixon in the White House,” Tom said. “Of all the stupid things to do.”

I was shocked. This was one of the very few times he had admonished me for anything. He had always supported my endeavors.

Despite all the crazy things that were going on, I was feeling a little better about my chances of living at least five more years. I sat down on June 11, to write a soothing (sort of) article about how this was not the craziest Presidential Election year. At least not as crazy as … say 1968.

I had just come home from “Rock for Rice” (a fundraiser for Asian Counseling and Referral Service) headed by Geo (aka Prometheus Brown) and Daniel Pak, feeling good and not being able to go to sleep right away. So I started to write about my brother Tom accusing me of doing something stupid, by not supporting Hubert Humphrey.

Suddenly, “Orlando,” “mass murder,” “gay Latinos,” and I don’t remember what else streams across my screen. I follow the story for a little while, start thinking about my other brother Sam, then decide, “I can’t deal with this now.” I shut down the computer, went to bed. I hardly slept.

I was writing about Tom because our whole family was going back to Honolulu for his inurnment. Tom wanted his ashes/urn to be as close to our parents’ urns as it could be. Though he died in September, with so many people in the family working on a school schedule, we decided that a summer date was best.

Different family members were in charge of different things, and my brother Ned and I decided we’d take care of the program. I was going to emcee and say a few words about Tom. By the time the Seattle chapter of the family left for Honolulu, the whole world situation had turned too bizarre and there is no way 1968 is even relevant. 2016 has become its own special year.

This has been my mind flow, of events in Hawai‘i and the world in brief (this list does not even include refugees from wars in Africa; the indigenous people in North, South, and Central America; French labor, and Okinawans fed up with the U.S. military presence.):

Tom Shimabukuro, a man driven by the most basic traditional cultural value of our parents, Zenshu and Yasuko, that families survive and thrive only when we all “stick together.” And the most basic subset of that community value lies in the role of the eldest son. As Tom always said, “It’s good if you’re a rich man’s son, but if you’re a poor man’s son, it’s really bad.” He took on his responsibility seriously and never questioned it: He was the eldest son, he paid all the debts, and ensured that the following generations would not be as “poor as we were growing up.”

Along the way, he became the first Asian American student body president at Punahou School in 1953, graduated with a B.A. and B.S. from Columbia University, worked for RCA, Page Communications, U.S. Defense Communications Agency, GTE Sprint and other communications companies, and was considered an expert in Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT—satellite dishes) and later, fiber optics. He was an engineer whose gift was being able to explain technical matters to non-technical people. He traveled to a lot of places, and helped set up and was responsible for communications networks in Vietnam, Thailand, China, India, Africa, and the European Union, to name a few. He never had a real home until he retired.

  • July 17, The morning after the services

Sunday morning
sitting on one bench
Kailua Farmers Market.
Stay watch da kids play,

and thought about
Tom’s ramen, inarizushi & sugah,
And Zenwa Uncle’s talking dis & dat
And about life, hard work, death, rebirth

Yesterday was good fun;

talk story ‘bout Tom.
But tiring too,

need for concentrate;
Today, no need concentrate

My mind drifting
all over da place.

I tell myself,
OK fo’ drift today, Bob.

Tomorrow different,

  • July 17, After Farmer’s Market, go Ukulele Festival.
  • July 17, Baton Rouge shooter kills three police officers
  • July 18, Ned’s friends come over, play some music, good time for all
  • July 19, Trip to Maleakahana. Zenwa Uncle used to be the groundskeeper/caretaker and Fumi Auntie was the cook/ housekeeper for the Spalding/Cooke family beach home at Maleakahana, which is now a State Park.

Scattered Sam’s ashes in the Park a few, well, now lots, of years back.

No mo’ white ash, brown dirt
No sign of Sam at Maleakahana
Just the posts from the fern garden.
All da oddah stuff green
think dis da last time can see Sam spot

When old, hard time travel.
Shed some tears, walk away.
Greenery one sign of new growth for Sam.
I know, I know, he no care about dat kine thinking,
but wen make me feel better thinking that way.

  • July 20, Services for Zen Uncle (102 years old). Another happy/sad time.
  • July 21, Just before we go to the airport, I hear about the behavioral therapist who got shot, while trying to help his autistic client get back to his group home. Police say it was a mistake. The SWAT team said they thought the autistic man had a gun and so were trying to save the therapist’s life. But he accidentally hit the Black therapist instead. This so bizarre I don’t know what to think. A SWAT team guy aims at a guy with a toy truck, “trying to save the therapist,” misses his target and hits the Black therapist instead. We are supposed to believe that? Good thing that the SWAT team guy bad marksmanship; good thing he didn’t kill the therapist. But what was he doing on the SWAT team?
  • July 21, Return to Seattle. Glad to get home. But the first thing I hear as we reach the airport gate: Trump giving his acceptance speech. Real hard to take.

In 1968, I was watching TV. California Presidential Primary. Bobby Kennedy shot. Pandemonium on TV. Cathie walks in the door. She watches for about 10 seconds, then asks, “What’s going on?”

“Bobby Kennedy shot. Think he’s dead, but they no like say.”

After a moment, she says quietly, “This country’s really f****d up.”

I nod my head in agreement.

Today, I think, even worse.

Still, I think about Tom’s comments. Because there’s that question again that’s lingering for a lot of folks, at least of my Facebook friends. Does withholding a vote for Humphrey = a vote for Nixon? Does withholding a vote for Clinton = a vote for Trump?

Let’s Catch a Breath, then keep moving.

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