BY J. ARTHUR RATH III – I was walking from the Waikiki Public Library with a book of Lewis Carroll’s “Nonsense” poetry in my hands and saw Coconut Willee shuffling dejectedly past the Chinese Restaurant on the other side of Kapahulu Avenue.
“Hey Brah, I’ll cross over and buy you some coffee,” I called out.
Removing the old-fashioned train engineer’s hat he’s started wearing he waved. I walked over and downstairs we went into a little restaurant advertising “Hawaiian Coffee” on an outside sandwich board.
We sat and sipped and he asked, “What’s that book?”
“Through the Looking Glass,” it contains old ‘Nonsense” poems by Lewis Carroll. One particularly quite appropriate to Honolulu’s present times.
“Did you get a job tearing up gardens so Oahu’s new train company can start putting in steel?”
“Nope, they asked to see my non-existent union card. I thought it was an open shop. Lots of mainland guys coming in, but no Willee. Read something from the book”
I selected “The Walrus and The Carpenter”:
“The time has come, the Walrus said,
To talk of many things:
Of shoes and ships and sealing wax—
Of cabbages and kings.
And why the sea is boiling hot,
And whether pigs have wings.”
“You’re reading that?” Willee interjected. That’s kid stuff.”
“Charles L. Dodgson was Lewis Carroll’s real name. Yes, the poem was thought to be ‘nonsense’ writing, but now I recognize its similarity to government in Hawaii.”
I raised my coffee cup and chuckled at obvious confusion on Willee’s face and explained:
“Beneath the surface it is about politicians and innocent people who can be misled and,
figuratively, eaten up. It is about political corruption and how politicians grow fat at the expense of people.
The Carpenter is trying to convince the populace (Oysters) that he and the Walrus
are rebuilding society for the oysters (the figurative human innocents). The Carpenter actually ate more of the oysters than did the Walrus!
“Lewis Carroll is criticizing the way society works. It is up to readers to see the subtleties of the text and to ponder them. It is for adult minds.
“He is telling us how politicians make promises of things that appeal to listeners. And then, eventually, they degenerate into babbling over useless issues such as ‘Flying Pigs.’
“Sounds like Hawaii politics to me,” Willee said dejectedly. “I was Deadeye Dick in Kaimuki High School’s production of “The Pirates of Penzance” by Gilbert and Sullivan. That included humor directed at the political system, too.
“Not being ‘Union” or Red, I won’t be celebrating “Workers’ Day” on May 1, I will celebrate “Hawaii Lei Day” instead.
“Lewis Carroll, is he the same guy who wrote “Alice in Wonderland?”
I nodded my head.
“I’ll bet ‘Wonderland’ was about politics, too,” he said.
“Yep. Good readers discover subtleties authors may include “behind story lines.”