Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Bye-bye Blackie

I wrote the piece below about my friend Blackie for The Maui News. There was much more of Blackie that I could have used, but you've got to stop somewhere. I should have mentioned, though, that Blackie was the only person I've known who owned a tugboat:

In a world of pussyfooters, Blackie Gadarian walked in hobnailed boots. They were disguised as black Keds, part of his invariable costume of orange shirt and black trousers.

Blackie said what he thought, whether the subject was cheapskates, jazz music, traffic, ignorant tourists or the value of a college education.

Not that Blackie downplayed education or college; he was a well-traveled, well-read read man. But he considered, and proved in his own long life, that you could do very well without going to college. Each year, he and his wife Sara presented $500 grants to Lahainaluna School graduates who were not going to college.

Blackie was, among other things, a machinist. He made rolling stock for the Lahaina, Kaanapali & Pacific Railroad, and custom brasswork for the Hyatt Regency. The later, larger and grander Grand Hyatt used off-the-shelf  brass, which Blackie deemed a comedown.

If you only know Blackie for his frequent, short, funny letters to the editor of The Maui News, you missed the essence of the man. He loved to talk, and lots of people -- I among them -- enjoyed listening.

You heard the most surprising things. At the invasion of Tarawa in 1943, a torpedo sank the small aircraft carrier Liscombe Bay, killing 600 Americans in a matter of minutes. Once Blackie mentioned he had been aboard a similar carrier just a short distance away. He never said anything else to me about his Navy service.

Late in life, after he closed his bar, Blackie’s Boatyard, and his machine shop, he wanted a place to work, so he bought a lot on Luakini Street and  built a place with a pool table and workshop. A neighbor came over and pointed to a tree on the lot.
As Blackie told it, “He told me a Hawaiian family had lived there in the old days, and they drank and they threw their empty bottles under the tree. ‘If you dig there, you’ll find plenty of collectible bottles.’ So I immediately had four inches of concrete poured around that tree. I don’t want anybody digging up any damn bones.”

Blackie was famous for throwing customers out of the boatyard. He told me he once threw out a young couple who tried to order one hot dog between them. He considered that unacceptably cheap.

Some people disliked such displays, but when an African-American woman he had ejected filed a discrimination suit, Blackie testified under oath that he threw people out without regard to race, creed, color or national origin, claiming a personal best of 23 in one day. He was acquitted of racial prejudice.

The Boatyard was filled with Blackie’s gags. He probably was most proud of the whale egg, which was about two and a half feet long and resided in a glass case with a placard that explained that Maui’s humpbacks laid their eggs in crevices at the bottom of the Alenuihaha Channel. Blackie claimed that many tourists believed it, and I believed him.

Blackie called me a few months ago to say he was working on his memoirs. I said I would be the first to want to read them, but I guess that pleasure will have to be foregone.   The one and only Blackie Gadarian died July 21 after a short illness and a long life filled with fun.

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