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I think maybe ten.  Yeah, ten years old I was at the time.  No can remember really good cuz', I was, um ... TEN I told you!! Eh, you gotta pay attention! We was living Lusitana Street, Punchbowl side above the Board of Water Supply. We was renting one small duplex from one Portagee man who lived in da big house that you had to pass to get to our place.  His tutu was always on the front porch in her rocking chair waving when we pass. "Aloha, Tutu" we would always say as we walked by with the grocery bags from G.E.M. store.  She would wave and give us a toothless grin.

In front of our place was one nuddah big house.  One Japanee family lived there.  I think had about tree or fo' kids.  One kid was my age.  Small Ray had da kine pomade slick back hair.  Him and me was ace mango tree climbers.  Summer time if we neva go down Tutuman's house in Waimea, me and Small Ray would spend the days building one treehouse in the mango tree.  Ok, not one real treehouse like you see in the movies.  Ours was more like one semi-platform fo' stand, sit, sleep, jump from. Gotta watch for da splinters and nails sticking up. I tink us guyz when deplete the bandaid supply in both our houses summer time.

We neva did see Small Ray's dad up in the daytime.  Ok, only once in a while we saw Big Ray.  One time I saw him taking out the trash early in the morning when Small Ray and me was walking to school. Small Ray said: "Oh shit, I forgot to take out the trash. Today is rubbish day."  When me and Small Ray got to the street, Big Ray was pushing some newspapers down in the galvanize rubbish can with his hands. "Ray-boy", Big Ray said, "You and me going round and round when you come home from school." I knew what that meant.  "You know today is rubbish day, boy.  You guyz only get play on your mind." Big Ray turned his back on us and walked off in a huff.

That was really the first time I got a good look at Big Ray.  You see, you would never see him around in the daytime.  His skin was pale white for one Japanee guy and he was big.  Look like he work out because he had broad shoulders and a bulky muscular body.  He work dark glasses and had his hair slicked back like Small Ray except he had it long in da back tied in one pony tail.  I was scaid of Big Ray.  Oh yeah, Big Ray had couple tattoos on his biceps and neck.  Was Japanee writing and one samurai fightah with one sword tattoo on his forearm.  I never like be on da bad side of Big Ray.

Aftah school was homework time.  I was desperately trying to master the art of fractions and percentages on the back porch when I heard someone playing a saxophone.  Mello kine.  Jazz kine.  Cool kine.  Smooth kine.  Sexy kine.  Hoo I liked it right away.  Who ewa was playing, was playing to one record cuz' I could hear the drums and piano in the background. The saxophone music was live but.  I went insai the house and looked out the bedroom window in the direction of the music.  It was coming from Small Ray's house.

Next day was Saturday no mo' school.  I stay raking leaves around the mango tree cuz'  "no can play until all the leaves stay raked" was da rule!  I stay looking up the mango tree wishing all the leaves fall down already so no mo' fall down.  Small Ray come out his house from the back with the screen door slamming.

"Eh," he go, "I gotta go shopping with my muddah. She sed if your muddah sed ok, you can come with us."

"Nah, no can, " I go, "gotta help my fuddah clean car."

"K'den" Small Ray go, "bumbye den."  And he was gone.

Finally in the late afternoon, I stay in the "tree house" making believe get Indians attacking da fort and I hear the music again.  Dis time I climb down and sneak ova by Small Ray's house.  I go by the back screen door and peek insai their kitchen.  I smell rice cooking.  Can tell eh, when get rice cooking?

I see sitting at the kitchen table, Big Ray with his dark glasses on and pony tail.  He has leather cross-the-toe slippahz on and his foot is tapping to the music. He get one white undershirt on and his back is to me.  The music is playing loud.  I can hear the brushes on the snare drum.  The piano is playing the melody.  Big Ray puts the saxophone to his mouth and waits. Just when the piano part pauses Big Ray begins to blow.  Oooooh  man, what sweet sounds he makes.

I am hypnotized by the music.  It's got me by the hand and leading me to Birdland with Charlie Parker.  It's Sonny Rollins rising up from New York's Greenwich Village basement jazz clubs.   John Coltrane with the Miles Davis Quintet blowing hot and cool at the same time.  And Big Ray is nodding his head and moving with the flow of the music.

"Eh, Boy-san," Big Ray says, turning around and looking at me through those pitch black sunglasses.  I freak.  I am about to take off running when Big Ray opens the screen door and sez, "come in sai, Boy-san, you like jazz?"

"Um, I dunno," I stammer.

"You like dis music, boy-san?" Big Ray asks.

"Yeah, it's cool" I smile.

"Den, you like jazz, boy-san." Big Ray smiles a toothy smile and picks up his horn just at the right spot on the record and blows right on cue.  I stand inside the kitchen door taking it all in.

I hear the car door slam outside and Small Ray and his muddah come walking up the sidewalk to the house.  They have shopping bags from Benjamin Franklin and Kress Store.  Small Ray is surprised to see me in his kitchen. "Small Ray! Get Boy-san some juice."  Small Ray take a glass pitcher from the icebox and pours me a glass strawberry Kool-aid.

"Honey, the music too loud," Small Ray's muddah is saying walking into the other room to turn down the Hi Fi.

"Ehh," Big Ray throws his hands up and walks out of the kitchen into the palor.  I hear the front door slam and Big Ray is walking down the sidewalk to the street.

Small Ray looks at me sheepishly. "My dad works nights playing music in Chinatown. He says he has to practice playing. My mom says it boddahs the neighbors."

"Small Ray, you gotta be kidding! I neva know your dad plays the sax. That's so cool." I say making one strawberry Koolaid mustache on my upper lip.

Truth of the matter was that everyone was wary of Big Ray and no one would complain.  The neighbors didn't know quite what to make of him.  He was kind of a "mystery" neighbor you didn't see up and around.  Now I knew why.  Big Ray slept all day, practiced his music in the late afternoon and worked all night until the wee hours of the morning at dance halls in Chinatown.

When I told my dad about it, he smiled knowingly.  Although, my mom was hesitant when she found out what Big Ray did for a living, my dad being a guitar player himself, understood.  "You like play the sax too?" He asked.  He went into the garage and pulled a dusty black case from a shelf.  When I popped the suitcase type latches and opened the case, I saw it.  A tenor Selmer sax in a worn musty purple velvet lined case.  "I used to play a little bit when I was younger," daddy sed, "you can use this if you want to play. Eh, maybe Big Ray will teach you."

That began my Saturday afternoon music lessons with Big Ray.  He took me down Chinatown to Sharps and Flats music store to buy my first reed.  He showed me how to soften the reed with saliva and place it in the clamps of the mouthpiece.  I looked forward to my one-hour music lesson each Saturday with Big Ray.  I learned to hold "my ax" properly and how to use my thumb to play an octave up.  Most of all, I learned how to open the valves to let the spit drain out of the chamber!!

We moved back to the country that summer and I lost touch with Small Ray and his family.  A young man's fascination with the horn turned to other interests.  The sax went back into the case and in one storage shed out back.

The music of the jazz masters of the late 50's and 60's still echoes in my head.  Whenever I hear the mournful sounds of a tenor sax, I recall my dad's saxophone and music lessons from Big Ray in his kitchen on Lusitana Street.


About Author

Kamaka Brown is AlohaWorld's roving ambassador and resident comic hosting "Kamaka Brown's KanakAttack" comedy page on AW.  He is a professional comic entertaining West Coast, Vegas and Hawaii audiences in clubs and concert venues.

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