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Thursday, December 18, 2014         

INCIDENTAL LIVES


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Thomas Square offers place to contemplate life's downs

By Michael Tsai

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Lehua Kealoha sits back in her beach chair in the far corner of the bathroom, the bun of her hair nestling against the white-tile corner, her arms restless beneath the blue hoodie she's spread over herself like a blanket.

For Kealoha and others who make their home at Thomas Square Park, rainy days like yesterday are just further confirmation that the world is an unforgiving place. Just one more reason to raise a 40-ounce and flip the world the bird.

At Kealoha's feet lies a 70-year-old man in soiled jeans and a Metallica shirt. He says his name is Robert Von Grulbarl. Before he fell asleep, he was attempting to draw a narrative line from a troubled childhood in Stuttgart, Germany (alternately, Siberia), to a five-year stint in the U.S. Army that supposedly ended with a bullet in the head, and to a robust life philosophy expressed via a series of obscene gestures and spittle-producing f-bombs.

Kealoha, 47, watches over the old man with ironic bemusement and seemingly genuine affection.

"People try to steal from him when he's drunk," Kealoha says. "There's a few of us here who try to look out for each other."

Good thing, too. The regulars try to keep a low profile. But it's not like there's a sign-in sheet. Just last week a new guy roughed up a woman over some kind of drug deal. The regulars made sure he didn't come back.

Kealoha spent much of her childhood on the street. Better, she said, than being at home, taking care of six siblings and getting beaten for the effort.

She's also spent a good chunk of her life in jail . By her own count, she has 68 convictions for things like assault and attempted murder. She's been paroled nine times.

Kealoha served her last stint in a Kentucky facility. As far as prisons go, it wasn't bad. She got to be outdoors. There was lots to do, and that kept her mind from wandering into treacherous places.

When she was released, Kealoha got into a carpentry program and spent a few months earning an honest living building houses in Makaha. It might have been the best time of her life.

"But then my dad passed, and I just let it all go," she says. "I didn't go back to the job. I let my place go. I called the tow company and had them take my car."

Kealoha has lived at the park for the past two years. She figures she'll get it together one day and give the straight life another try. But life is a series of up and downs, she says, and she's not done being down yet. Still too many dark thoughts seeping through the cracks. Still too many dark feelings rising up from the soil on a rainy day.

For now it's enough to relax a little and be with friends.

It's Christmas this week, right?

"Good excuse to get drunk," Kealoha says.

Reach Michael Tsai at mtsai@staradvertiser.com.






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