In the fourth grade, I caught a cold. Forced to miss a day of school, I stayed up late the next night, hurriedly scrawling my make-up assignments—one of which was an essay on three ways to make Maui better.
Back then, recycled paper was damn near the color of the carbon in #2s, and the lack of contrast was blinding. So I suggested putting recycling centers in every community, hoping this might lead to more quality paper by the time I graduated to college-ruled.
Weeks later, my teacher, Miss Fallas, quietly handed me a letter from the Office of the Mayor. Dark black type on paper brighter than the Weekly Reader informed me that all my wildest nine-year-old dreams were about to come true. I’d won the first-ever “Mayor for a Day Essay Contest” (an honor that would—sigh—remain my most prestigious pre-MauiTime credential).
Prizes consisted of going Downtown on a school day (gasp!), sitting in then-Mayor Linda Lingle’s chair long enough for a photo op and a cheeseburger lunch on the County dime (I brazenly ordered iced tea, to the adults’ amusement). An unexpected perk included a photo by Matthew Thayer in The Maui News, which helped make up for being scarred for life by a peek into what looked to be Satan’s Lair: the cold, empty Council Chambers.
Post-lunch in the parking lot, after everyone had gone, Lingle took a little extra time to lade my arms with every piece of re-election campaign swag her car trunk offered. That, I thought, was very cool and for the rest of the school year (and throughout Summer Pals), I traded in my backpack for my new canvass bag—“LINGLE” screen-printed boldly in blue. Toting it proudly, one corner saturated with uncapped ink, it was testament to my writerly aspirations and bore many a notebook before it bus’ beyond recognition.
Years later, some things have changed, some haven’t. Instead of a cold, I got cancer and was forced to miss work. Iced tea proved a gateway to coffee, nurturing a robust caffeine addiction, and I still stay up late hurriedly pecking my overdue assignments. I still lug around a blue-printed canvass bag, though this one says “Budapest, Hungary” (which, for dry reasons that deserve no explanation, is very comical to me). And I still fancy being a writer. As for Lingle, well…
Last weekend I attended the King’s Cathedral’s prayer breakfast, celebrating the church’s 30th anniversary. The congregation played host to mayors Charmaine Tavares, Mufi Hannemann and Bernard Carvalho, plus Lt. Governor Duke Aiona and now-Governor Lingle herself. When the event concluded, I thought it prime opportunity to make some (re)introductions. By the time I made it through the crowds, all had departed except Lingle; like that long ago day in the parking lot, it seemed but her and I.
As I reached to shake her hand, I had a fleeting half-notion that if I reminded her of our earliest acquaintance she might offer to buy me another cheeseburger. “You probably don’t remember me, but I was once Mayor for a Day,” I said, feigning a smile as I realized how dumb I sounded.
Lingle smiled in return. “Oh! And what are you doing now?”
“I’m a journalist,” I said, my happiness rebounding. Reflexively I rocked to my toes, my inner fourth grader proud for having embraced my dreams.
But Lingle couldn’t hear me over the lingering din, and she leaned in, shouting, “A what?”
“I’m a JOURNALIST,” I shouted back, and tiptoed even higher.
“Oh,” she said. And her smile disappeared as quickly as she did.
So much for coming full circle.