The Tiki Hut


I write elsewhere that dad had a thing about Hawaii. Here's further proof, if any is needed. This is me and a neighborhood kid, Rocky Arnone, standing at the entrance of the tiki hut Mom and Dad built in about 1961 from some lumber, bamboo, palm matting and other stuff. This isn't at the house in Burbank, this is at the house we rented on Robinson Street in the Silverlake district of Los Angeles. I think this was the summer of 1963, so I would have been seven. I remember the way they worked together on this structure - a rare thing: Mom and Dad didn't do things like that when they got older - in preparation for the above-ground swimming pool that would get installed. The tiki hut was a sort of diving-off place for kids. The entrance was over to the side. The idea was that one would walk on the little path past the bamboo trees, up the little ladder into the tiki house and jump off the platform into the pool. You can see the big banana trees to the right of the hut; those, the hut and the Polynesian bric-a-brac Dad had strewn about the yard were the very height of decor for us. He tried to repeat this in the back yard in Burbank, but wasn't quite as successful.

This other shot shows the pool - what we called a "Doughboy." (It must have been the brand name.) That big guy trying not to get wet is, of course, Dad. And, as you can see, the palm matting at the top of the hut suffered as a result of what toy manufacturers call "unexpected play patterns."

It wasn't feasible to keep water in the pool during the winter months (well, it wasn't feasible to keep clear water in the pool, anyway), so we normally just disassembled everything but the hut every year. One winter we tried draining the water from the pool and leaving the vinyl liner exposed to the sunlight and the elements. That was a mistake, because the liner dried out and cracked. (My friends and I jumping in it and making holes with nails didn't help, either.) These pools lasted even less time than did our sofas, which was a source of amazement to me.

Our backyard adjoined the parking lot of a grocery store (I think it was a Thriftimart), and one year there was a fire. It was memorable, because after the flames were put out and the fire department was safely gone, everyone in the neighborhood converged on the store, clearing out the shelves of food. (I remember that we had canned Green Giant niblet corn for a long time afterwards. Mom tried to serve one of the many, many cans of smoked herring she lifted, but I refused to partake.) Anyway, my friend Jimmy and I - following the example of the grown-ups - relieved the store of those steel roller ramps that were used to send boxes of canned goods from the interior of trucks to the storage section of the store. We grabbed three of them, and dragged them to the backyard, where we propped them up starting at the door of the hut and landing on the ground about twenty feet away. We then used one of our plastic boats to slide down the rollers. It was great fun - especially when we used our crayons to decorate the interior of the hut like the Jetsons' house, and drew instrumentation on the inside of the boat to represent one of those bubble-domed space cars the Jetsons drove.

After we got tired of the novelty we tore the tiki hut apart, leaving only the platform. Which, since my eighth birthday party in 1964 was a Beatles-themed party, was a good thing. The Holland girls (that's Kitty standing next to me) each adopted a Beatles persona and, plastic ukeleles in hand, did rousing imitations of the Fab Four on the platform. I have it on 8 mm film. Their already frenetic performance was enhanced by the fact that Mom hadn't fully wound the movie camera, making the sequence under-cranked, or speeded-up. The "Beatles Party" was a matter of family lore for years, and the footage trotted out and duly shown upon request by the Hollands. (As a kid I thought it was stupid and embarrassing; as an adult I find it entertaining.) When the platform became unstable it was disassembled.

April, 1961: "Wesley! Wave to the camera! Wave!"


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