One Tongue Sandwich

by Liz Clare

Duke jiggled with excitement as the crowded, clanging streetcar heaved down the waterfront. Another day of adventure in Honolulu! Already Duke had decided it was the most fun place he had ever been in his six years. Yesterday Papa had taken him to the zoo and let him ride the elephant. And tomorrow, they were going to Kuhio Beach to see the surfers!

"Papa," Duke said, "Are you gonna teach me how to surf?"

"Maybe," Papa replied. "But not today. Today we will spend downtown. Business before pleasure, Duke-boy."

Duke felt grown-up in his Sunday best – white shirt, black jacket and tie, short pants, and knee socks. Papa looked important. His gold pocket watch chain gleamed handsomely against the white linen of his suit, and he wore his special straw hat that he always saved for church. Papa was the boss, not just at home on the farm, but in the big city too!

"Are you excited about our day, Duke-boy?" Papa asked him.

"Yeah!" Duke said.

"It’s going to be fun," Papa declared. "This afternoon, we’re going a few blocks up that way—" he pointed up ahead, past the waterfront, into downtown. "We’re going to see a real royal palace, where the king and queen used to live. They were Hawaiians, just like you and me, and they ruled over all of these islands. This one, Oahu, and our home on the Big Island, and all of the others. Can you imagine that, Duke-boy?"

Duke grabbed the back of the streetcar bench in front of him and pulled himself to his feet. He wanted to see this palace. Gently, Papa pressed on his shoulder, murmuring for Duke to take his seat. He continued, "Of course, it’s not a palace anymore, but where the territory of Hawaii has offices. But still, we can go visit and imagine what it must have been like in those days. And you’ll be able to tell Mama all about it when we get back home.

"But first, we will go to the bank and do business. Then, when your papa is done there, we will go to Kress’s and get—"

"One tongue sandwich!" Duke blurted eagerly.

"Not one tongue sandwich, Duke-boy. A tongue sandwich," Papa corrected gently. Duke picked up pidgin English on the farm, from playing with the paniolos –- Hawaiian cowboys – who worked for Papa. Papa never liked for him to use it. He said it made you sound like a dumb kanaka –- a dumb, common Hawaiian boy. The Lukelas, Papa said, were better than that.

"AAAAAY tongue sandwich!" Duke exclaimed.

Papa smiled. "You’ll like Kress’s, Duke-boy. It is a palace too in its own way, if a drug store can be a palace. It’s even better than Elsie’s in Hilo. And best of all is the lunch counter, where your papa used to eat back when he was a student at the college. And the very best thing – the very best thing of all –" Now Papa made his eyes big and funny-looking, so Duke got the giggles – "is the exquisite – mouth-watering – salty - thin-sliced tongue, with mayonnaise on toasted bread with lettuce, tomato … and a pickle!"

 With that, Papa leaned over Duke and pulled the bell to let the driver know they were getting off at the next stop. With a squeal of the overhead cables and a thrilling shudder, the streetcar swung around the corner and came to a stop in front of an impressive building with fancy cornices.

It was just as nice inside. Papa told the lady in the front, "Conrad Lukela here for Mr. Pang."

Duke always liked hearing his father’s name. It sounded strong. He asked Papa to tell him the story of how he got his own name, the name of the great Olympic champion Duke Kahanamoku, but instead Papa reminded him about "business before pleasure."

"I understand," Duke promised. "I can handle."

Papa grimaced and was about to correct him again when the bank man came out of his office, smiling and sticking his hand out. "Always a pleasure to welcome one of our best customers, Mr. Lukela," he enthused, wringing Papa’s hand. Then he exclaimed over Duke, "And here’s the little man!" Solemnly, Duke gave him a firm handshake, just as Papa had taught him, and said "Pleased to meet you."

"Happy New Year, Mr. Pang," Papa said.

"Yes, yes," Mr. Pang replied, taking out his handkerchief and wiping his shiny face. "Let’s hope 1932 is a better year. Between this business depression and this ugly business with the Massie trial, I can’t remember a more tense time in this city."

"I hope those vigilantes get what they deserve," Papa said. Nodding towards Duke, he continued, "I almost hesitated about bringing him. But he is at a wonderful age to travel. I’ll just stay away from that courthouse."

Duke had heard the grownups talking about the trial. It sounded important, but every time he asked Papa about it, Papa justsaid it wasn’t anything for him to worry about. Now, Papa sat Duke down on a dark and slippery wooden chair across from the desk of a very pretty lady who was typing so fast she made the whole room clatter. "I won't be gone too long, Duke," Papa told him. "Be very very good. Don't move a muscle."

Almost as soon as Papa was out of his sight, Duke realized that he had to go to the bathroom. He tried not to think about it. Instead, he craned his neck back to stare at the ceiling fan stroking the air high above his head with long, lazy, slow turns. He could hear Papa and Mr. Pang talking softly about business things, Papa’s deep, soft voice and Mr. Pang’s sharper one.

"This Depression has given our pony business a real thumping. We are grateful for the loan—"

"—We are just pleased to have a customer who can pay their loan back—"

Duke hoped he didn’t have to ask the pretty lady to take him to the bathroom. For one thing, Papa might come back and be aggravated with him for getting up. He didn’t like to aggravate Papa. For another thing, he wanted to be business-like. He would hold it if he possibly could.

After a while, the pretty lady stopped typing and started busily moving papers around on her desk. Duke filled up his cheeks with air and slowly let it out several times. When you had to go to the bathroom, it sure was hard to think of anything else, especially in a place like this.

The lady smiled at him. "Son, would you like a piece of candy?" she asked.

"No, thank you," Duke told her. "I'm not supposed to move a muscle." Duke realized that he was swinging his legs and stopped himself. "Besides," he said proudly, "I have to save room for my tongue sandwich from Kress’s."

"Aren’t you lucky to have a daddy who takes you to Kress’s," the lady said. "Do you have brothers and sisters?"

"Yeah. I have a little sister and a little brother. He’s just a baby. I’m six."

"Getting big," the lady smiled.

"That’s right," Duke replied.

"What are you going to do when you grow up and you’re really big?" she asked him.

"Play football," Duke said. He was just about to offer to show her how to make a paper football when Papa came out of the office. Duke jumped off the chair and ran over to him. Papa put his arm around Duke's shoulder and held him against his side while he finished talking to Mr. Pang. Duke liked the way his father smelled -- warm and spicy.

"We would be pleased to make you another loan, Mr. Lukela," Mr. Pang said. "You are the kind of customer we love to have."

"I will think about it," Papa said, tucking some papers into the inside pocket of his white suit coat. "Right now, I want to be conservative." He turned to the lady and asked her, "Well, how was he?"

"He was as good as gold, Mr. Lukela," she told him. She gave Duke a little wave when Papa took his hand and said goodbye to Mr. Pang.

To Duke's relief, they visited the bathroom before they left the bank. Like everything else he had seen in Honolulu, it was remarkable -- all greens and golds and curved lines everywhere. He and Papa even washed their hands with special green soap.

After the stillness of the bank, the sunlight and the street sounds burst over them like a big wave. Duke felt excited. "Are we going to Kress's now, Papa?" he asked eagerly.

"You bet, Duke-boy," Papa said. "Going to get you one of those tongue sandwiches."

"Yay!" Duke exclaimed.

He had never seen so many people in his life! Serious-looking men, dressed like Papa in suits and straw hats, hurried in and out of big tall buildings. Old ladies knelt in doorways, stringing hundreds of fragrant flowers into leis. Street vendors hawked fried meats and exotic candy that made Duke's mouth water. The rumble of huge cars and the clanging of the streetcar competed with horse-drawn produce wagons spilling out from the alleys and side streets.

Duke didn't know where to look, listen, or smell. Exhilarated, he started to skip down the sidewalk. He dropped Papa's hand and bounced a few steps ahead, turning around to try to read the writing on the buildings that towered above his head, eight and ten stories high.

"Slow down, Duke-boy," Papa cautioned.

Duke pranced ahead of Papa on the curb, balancing himself on the narrow strip of concrete between the sidewalk and the busy street. It was something he had only recently learned to do, along with curling his tongue and flexing his muscles, and he was proud of himself. He squeezed past some big sailors who were walking three abreast on the sidewalk. Papa would catch up in a minute and take him to Kress's. And after that, they were going to the palace, where the king had used to live –

Then, Duke heard a man’s voice cut through the air, rough, loud, and mean.


Duke stopped. In fact, the whole bustling crowd of people slowed down, then quit moving all together. The people in front of Duke -- a Chinese man selling crackseed, a lady carrying leis from her wrists to her shoulders, a gentleman in a striped suit, all turned, slowly, with funny, startled faces, in the direction of the voice.

Who was the mean man? Was he talking to him? The words were simple, but Duke didn’t understand. Especially when he saw that everyone was looking at his father.


Conrad Lukela conceded that he hadn't been looking where he was going. He had been hurrying; he hadn't wanted to lose sight of Duke. The way his son was dancing unsteadily on the curb scared him. What was safe on the farm or in sleepy downtown Hilo was dangerous in crowded Honolulu. He needed to bring his son's bubbling enthusiasm back to safety at his side. Which was why he hadn't seen the three sailors, striding together down Alakea Street in the direction of the harbor. He had bumped into the one nearest the curb -- gave him a bit of a wallop, truth be told. He was just about to apologize --


Conrad's heart almost stopped. He had known before making the trip to Honolulu that the city might be a bit tense. It was this ugly business with the Massie case. Thalia Massie, the wife of a Navy officer, had filed a claim of rape against a group of local boys -- Hawaiian and Oriental boys, to be exact. When the boys were acquitted, her husband had shot one of them dead. Now he was the one on trial.

The case had ripped apart the unwritten agreement that had governed life in Hawaii ever since Conrad could remember – that the haoles were in charge, and that their little brown brothers liked it that way. That was why he had told Mr. Pang that he planned to avoid the courthouse where the trial was taking place. He didn’t particularly want to answer any of Duke’s "why" questions about the Hawaiian and Oriental protesters, gathered daily to wave signs and shout about how the boys had been railroaded and how Mrs. Massie was a liar. Even less did he want Duke exposed to any of Massie’s white supporters, with their vicious talk about how dark-skinned men couldn’t be trusted around white women.


The sailor was talking to him. A pink, raw-boned, youthful face, twisted in a hateful snarl.


He heard somebody whisper -- he thought it was the big pake selling crackseed -- "That's no kanaka, that's a gentleman."

Conrad ducked his head. It was a hell of a thing to make a man do. He was hapa-haole, though he knew that being half-white would mean less than nothing to these men. He had always worked hard to be treated with respect -- to be a gentleman. He liked to think that any man would be proud to be seen on the street with Conrad Lukela. He was teachiing his son to conduct himself the same way -- with self-control, dignity, and class.

It was a hell of a thing to make a man do, in front of his own son.

Even he didn't know what he was going to do, until he did it.

As if it had a mind of its own, his left hand delivered a powerful hook, right in the center of the sailor's nose. The boy's nose exploded in blood, and he reeled back, staggering, and fell onto the sidewalk, right on his big okole.

The astonishment on the sailors' faces was profound. Plainly this was not the response they had expected. They hauled their friend to his feet. Conrad stood balanced on the balls of his feet, his throbbing fist still clenched, ready to fight. Ready to go down swinging, if he had to. The sailors grabbed their friend's arms. He struggled a little, almost weeping with rage and the sudden pain. His nose looked like a red orchid blossom in the middle of his face. The others said, "Let it go, buddy! Let it go! We got enough trouble already."

Conrad stepped aside, but not off the sidewalk, his back to the street, but not into it, to allow them room to pass. And they did, the boy cursing in a strangled voice -- "He hit me! The bastard hit me!"

Then the noise of the street rose again in Conrad's ears, above the roar of his own blood. And the small knot of people watching the tiny drama –- the old woman with her leis, the crackseed vendor, the man in the striped suit -- came to life again as if by magic, to resume their lunch hours as if nothing at all had just happened on Alakea Street.

Duke! Conrad realized. God in heaven, where was Duke? He could be two blocks away by now! He looked around, panicked, but Duke hadn’t gone anywhere. He stood rooted to the sidewalk a few steps in front of Conrad, watching him in open-mouthed amazement. Conrad grabbed Duke's arm and jerked him forward, plunging through the lunchtime crowd, down the street, anxious to put as much distance between himself and Duke and the sailors as he could.

As the adrenaline careered through his body, from his muscles to the rest of his system, he felt himself start to shake with fear. When he thought of what could have happened! He could have been arrested. He could have been beaten to death. There could have been a riot -- good God, behind the bland faces they presented to the white world, half the people on this street were spoiling for a fighht, just like he was, and he hadn't even known it. Worst of all, to think that something could have happened to Duke-boy! How could he have forgiven himself that?

Conrad realized that he was practically running, that he was dragging Duke along by the arm. Duke's toes were scuffing the pavement in his effort to keep up with his father. Conrad forced himself to slow down, then to stop, and kneel down at his son's level. He wanted to hug Duke, but instead he just straightened Duke's jacket and adjusted Duke's little tie.

Duke was watching his face with an expression something like awe. Conrad realized he owed his son an explanation for what he had just seen. He searched his brain for words that would explain what the sailor had said to him and why he had hit the man. He tried to think of what he wanted to try to teach Duke, what kind of man he wanted Duke to be. It didn't seem to jibe. Finally he just said, "Duke-boy, sometimes a man has to stand up for himself."

Duke looked suitably impressed with these words of wisdom. He probably thought his papa was a hero. Conrad didn't feel like a hero. He wanted Duke to admire education, hard work, responsibility, love and pride and family -- not fisticuffs. But it couldn't be helped, not now.

Conrad managed a smile for Duke. "You ready for that tongue sandwich, Duke-boy?"

"Yeah!" Duke said, and jumped up and down.

Later, the father and son sat at the lunch counter at Kress's, Duke's legs dangling from his high stool. Conrad watched Duke demolish a man-sized sandwich with innocent enthusiasm, just because his father had told him it was wonderful. Suddenly, Conrad Lukela felt awfully glad he hadn't taught his son to step off the sidewalk.

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