Now, it is not every day you hear a story like this. Indeed, it is not even every night, unless one leads a very unusual nocturnal life indeed and from me, that’s saying something.
I’m not sure what. But something.
She’s something alright. And she was probably even more of a something fifty-some-odd years ago, when she was whisked from the South Pacific in company of a Canadian Seaman (and we’ve all heard all about Canadian seamen, haven’t we?) and transplanted abruptly to a dingy back room on East Hastings, neither the first nor the last tropical beauty to end her days on the chilly, rain-washed streets of Vancouver’s Skid Row.
Photo by Mikhail Gershovich with D’Arcy Norman’s camera
Doesn’t she look pretty? Doesn’t she look happy? Doesn’t she look like she has no idea what she’s gotten herself into?
So, what did she?
I will tell you the story as the banquet manager of the Waldorf Hotel told it to me, one rainy afternoon when Raj and I were scoping out the place for the Urban Mixer. Predictably, I loved it, while he wasn’t so enchanted. But that is neither here nor there. It’s off over in that corner somewhere, with the dust bunnies.
The banquet manager, whose card is somewhere on this desk, no doubt glued down well with coffee rings and probably with half of a newspaper stuck to it with White Rabbit Candy, told us that during the Second World War one of the family who owned the Waldorf had been stationed in the South Pacific, and he went back to Tahiti after the war was over, what with Vancouver having somewhat of an oversupply of underemployed veterans, and Tahiti being, well, Tahiti. And while he was there, he noticed many things. He noticed the beauty and the sexiness of the women. He noticed the way art was woven into every warp and weft of daily life in the islands. He noticed the way the people gloried in nature’s beauty, including their own.
He noticed that everything was very cheap.
And in true Vancouver robber baron style, he made a deal for a whack of paintings by, if memory serves, four different artists (you can see the difference in styles if you study all of the pictures together) and various tiki-themed accessories, woven palm frond wallpaper being in somewhat short supply in Vancouver then as now. I think it cost him a sawbuck, but I could be wrong about that.
Cut to Vancouver, a few months later. There’s his family with a modest hotel on a busy street, and a big space on the mezzanine floor that’s doing nothing. Junior gets the idea to put his loot to good use by opening a tiki bar, Vancouver’s first and finest. And so they did. And downstairs got the overflow, so they built a Flintstones-worthy band stage and fake koi pond with dancing lights and a dining hall worthy of Gilligan’s Island, if Gilligan’s Island catered weddings for 300.
And the Tiki Maiden was given pride of place in the main lounge and all was made ready for the grand opening.
Now, this was Vancouver. This was, I believe, 1956. And this was an entirely naked Tahitian maiden who was, quite obviously, barely legal even in Tahiti.
City Hall, quick then as now to look for palms crossed with silver opportunities, only now they call them Consulting Fees and they route them through their spouse, sent an inspector of indeterminate type around. Presumably there was no full-time tiki bar inspector. I mean, it was Vancouver. In 1956.
And in Vancouver, in 1956, the inspector nodded and approved of a million little things. He liked the twinkling stars in the ceiling. He liked the woven palm frond wallpaper. He liked the tiki drums used as bar stools. He liked the tiki masks with the glowing Christmas lights for eyes. And as for the glorious tiki maiden…
He saw. He staggered. He clutched his heart, or maybe I just put that in there for dramatic effect, but maybe he did it anyway.
There she was, smiling broadly and displaying her charms equally so. You could, in fact, literally see she was a broad, and you could see just exactly how broad she was, in the ladyflower region.
As I described it when telling the story at the Northern Voice opening party, “She had a total Britney Spears situation going on down South.”
And This. Would. Not. Do.
But the young sailor genuinely liked the Tiki girl. It’s Art, he said, and he was right, although perhaps his defense of her depended more on her all-too-apparent charms than on the artist’s magic touch. And he refused to have her removed, though the City Hall inspector raged and ranted and threatened to withhold the almighty permits, leaving the family with a large, extremely well-appointed and rather expensive rec room.
To this day, no-one remembers what forgotten genius came up with the solution, but solution there was, and it was acted upon immediately. An artist (temperate rather than tropical, it is true, but possessed by the spirit of tiki as you may see from the results) was summoned and turned loose. Some hours later, the tiki maiden was ready for her closeup and lo, you couldn’t see a thing.
Other than the large, flowered lei which had been hastily slathered over the previously unadorned ladyflower.
Postscript: One notes, even possessed by the spirit of Jack Daniels as one was, that as one was telling the story the bartender was shaking his head violently, so violently and so prolongedly that one worried about the possibility of brain stem injury; to which, one can only reply that if one cannot trust a banquet manager who mists up when describing the tender portrait of the old fisherman which they’ve hung down near the dining hall, well, who can you? Eh?
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