You know the axiom that goes, “It’s not what you know but who?” Some would say that’s true about life on Kaua’i.
I’ll never forget one Saturday afternoon a few years ago. I was seated comfortably on my riding law mower, traversing the almost two acres of land on which my house sits. As I made a turn and headed back toward the driveway, I spotted my good friend Pam running toward me waving a box over her head. We both awaited the same thing in the mail—the same something we couldn’t wait to arrive, the same something we prayed would hit our mailboxes that day, Saturday, so we wouldn’t have to wait two whole days for the next mail delivery on Monday.
The rural community in which I live on Kaua’i does not have mail service, so I rent a box at the local post office a mile away. Letters fit in the box just fine; parcels bigger than a videotape do not. I cannot remember the contents of the package that were so important to us. I just remember the image—Pam running like a happy schoolgirl between the palms in my front yard, the sun bouncing off her smile—and thinking only in Kaua’i would a postal employee give a package addressed to one person to someone else entirely. But that’s because the postmaster knows me. She knows Pam. She knows we’re friends. As one of the more popular bumper stickers you’ll see on the backs of cars on Kaua’i proclaims, “This ain’t the mainland.”
That’s one reason why today, as I drove home from the west side of Kaua’i, I stopped in Borders Books & Music. I knew full well that my mentor Hope Edelman’s new memoir The Possibility of Everything wasn’t due to hit bookshelves until tomorrow, September 15, but I figured since I was in the neighborhood, I would stop. After all, it could be days before I’d make it back into town from my end of the island. That’s another thing about life on Kaua’i. The idea of driving the 15 miles from Anahola where I live to Lihu’e where the bookstore is located is akin to a cross-country trek. I don’t do it every day. I rarely do it every week. And, when I do, I make a list of a half-dozen places to stop.
Earlier in the day, as I chatted with the gas station attendant who pumped gas into my Jeep, we both commented on the day. Only a few clouds mingled above the mountaintops in the center of the island. The sky and the ocean gleamed a brighter blue than normal. It felt like a chocolate sundae kind of day. That delighted feeling contributed as well to my decision to stop at Borders.
When I entered the store and spied my favorite bookseller—someone who has helped me source books for the 10 years I’ve lived on Kaua’i—I knew the stars had aligned for me.
“I’m looking for a book that’s not due out until tomorrow, but I figured I’d try,” I said.
He looked it up on the computer. “Biography,” he said.
“It’s in?” I asked. Only on Kaua’i, I almost uttered.
“That’s what the computer says. Let’s look.”
We tried the nonfiction table at the front of the store. When we couldn’t find it in the stacks along the side of the store, he said, “Let me check in back.”
A few minutes later, he returned. Jackpot. In his hands, he held the hardback edition of The Possibility of Everything. I knew it. Like the title, I believed.
But, then, when he headed for the information desk and not the checkout, I grew confused. He wrote my last name on a piece of paper and slipped it in the book.
“We’ll hold it for you,” he said.
“Its ‘lay down’ date is tomorrow. We can’t sell it until then,” he said.
“Really?” I said, but what I really meant was can’t you bend the rules for me. After all, you know me. We’re friends.
“No,” he said. “If I do, I’ll get fired.”
I knew then our semi-friendship would not win out over his job, his source of income, his livelihood. Accepting defeat, I said, “Can I, at least, read the first page?”