Magic These Days & Tributes: January–August 2022

Magic These Days


How can we believe we are magic if our hearts are constantly being shattered? Last April, Auntie Carol, who turned an abandoned lot into a community garden next to her house, stopped eating and willed herself to die. Even Vegas, where she flew four times a year to deposit her pension and 401(k) into the Mexican-themed slot machines Hot Fiesta and Red Hot Tamales, couldn’t entice her to hang on a little longer. If only she did, maybe she would’ve finally gotten that reel of nine blazing sevens and won back her house from the bank. Instead, she pulled the plug of hope and started vanishing before our very eyes, surviving only on apples and cans of Coke until the final stroke took her away from us. 

Unlike Uncle Harry in Hilo, who hung on for almost ten years. Every waking day was a lost page from his book of memories. He forgot the world and everyone in it, except for his dead wife, who sometimes returned to life in the guise of their only daughter, who flew back and forth between Hilo and Honolulu enough times to deserve a share of sky stocks, back and forth, again and again, just to remind him of the stories that belonged to him. World erased, he passed away peacefully in his sleep on April 5, 2022, two days after Auntie Carol.

How can our hopes and aims not go astray when Destiny keeps intruding? 

Mid-Monday, mid-July, my friend Tiff called to tell me our dear friend Marlene’s time had come to bid us adieu. Cause of death: trying to upstage Janet Leigh in Hitchcock’s Psycho by setting her finale in the shower (sans the foul play and Oedipal twist). No heart-stopping and non-stop screaming for forty-five seconds. No creepy motel owner Norman Bates, dragging in his dead mother’s clothes and wig and wielding a knife. No shrill musical score by Bernard Herrmann to accompany the slaughtering while the sound engineer hacks away at melons and sirloin steaks to capture the right sound of being stabbed. No close-up shots of blood and soap and water running and swirling into the plughole. No, there was none of that. Just Koa remarking after I delivered the news to him: “Poor paramedics! They must be traumatized for life!” 

Then, yesterday, I received a barrage of texts and phone calls. OMG:RIP:ONJ. As in Olivia Newton-John, one of my childhood icons. I actually had a crush on her when I wasn’t pretending to be her two unforgettable roles for the silver screen. As Sandy, Danny Zuko’s love interest in Grease, and as Kira, the roller-skating muse and daughter of Zeus in Xanadu, a place where nobody dared to go. 

Another love, another loss. Echoes. 

Tiff pings me with more lyrics from “Xanadu,” and, suddenly, the wheels of memory are in motion, and I am back on the Murphy Street of my childhood in Kalihi Valley, where, in our covered driveway, we are about to re-enact for the nth time the finale in Grease, but with a local Filipino flair. Our next-door neighbor Geoff, who would go on to become a professor of dance in a Midwestern college, tripled his role as choreographer, director, and casting agent. 

Everyone, including the boys, who also wanted to be Sandy, had to audition. That was probably when we realized we were more than boys liking other boys, a recognition that, though it did not end the taunts from school bullies and hetero-driven expectations of my parents, especially my father, somewhat lessened my hurting and doubting. 

To be Sandy was the much-coveted role, not counting the three boys, of course, who almost got into a fistfight vying for the role of Danny. In the world of role-playing, it meant portraying a role that was as popular as Lucy van Pelt from Peanuts, or Jill Munroe from Charlie’s Angels, or Princess Leia with her iconic two-cinnamon-buns-like hairstyle in Star Wars. 

We were either in love with Sandy or wanted to emulate her. Because, of all the characters in Grease, she’s the only one who undergoes a major transformation at the end, physically and morally, from goody-two-shoes Aussie in ponytails and hair ribbons to biker babe in full leather gear and big curls. The makeover is electrifying; I get chills—and fast multiplying, too—just reliving the memory. 

Sandy is the only one who gets to become somebody else, though my younger brother argued that what we mistook for transformation was merely a biker chick breaking out of her repressed world: a femme fatale in a leather jacket, tight black spandex pants, and shoulder-baring black top; scarlet lips, red clogs, gold hoop earrings; and blowing cigarette smoke at Danny Zuko, who almost lost his mind when she licked her lips and delivered her “What’s hanging, stud?” line with relish.

My sister disagreed. She thought Sandy sold out by turning into a wannabe Pink Lady. We feigned accordance; it meant one less competition to deal with. She auditioned instead for the role of Danny Zuko. Defying the casting norm, Geoff, our director/choreographer/casting agent, gave her the part. She beat out Hermenegildo Corpuz and Virgilio Cabatbangan, who ended up as Kenickie and Putzie; as consolation, they were understudies to Danny Zuko. 

As for Sandy, I think I was the lucky one who nabbed the part that afternoon. If not on that day, then another day. But we all took turns singing “Hopelessly Devoted to You” and undergoing a makeover. We all took turns forcing our skinny bodies into a pair of skintight pants, dancing in red clogs and hoop earrings we clipped onto our lobes, unless you were Julieta Vergara and Anastasia Rosales, who had pierced ears. We all got to play Sandy and Danny, so we could practice the art of democracy and flexibility, and master discerning the difference between feigning and being. 

We took turns playing, and being understudies for, Sandy. We sang “Hopelessly Devoted to You” to the Danny Zuko of our dreams, the cleft-chin greaser who could keep us safe and satisfied. We clapped, slapped our thighs, and crossed our wrists to “Born to Hand Jive” by Sha Na Na as we galloped up and down steep Murphy Street. We even took our role-playing on the road, going as far as the fiftieth State Fair, held in the parking lot of Aloha Stadium, on roller skates. There, we stopped human traffic in front of the duck-shooting gallery with our singing and dancing to “We Go Together,” like rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong, while the Ford De Luxe convertible nicknamed “Greased Lightning” revved in our minds. 

For three years, from summer of ’78 to the summer of ’81, we role-played to Grease (and Saturday Night Fever and Dance Fever and Charlie’s Angels and Fame and The Love Boat and Star Wars and Xanadu). Geoff continued to direct, cast, and choreograph, while the rest of us alternated playing the leads, supporting roles, extras, and background dancers. The only production we bombed was when we dared to stage The Blue Lagoon, about two shipwrecked preteens (played on screen by Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins) courting their sexual curiosity on a desert island inhabited by indigenous cannibals. 

In order to get to the lagoon, or a semblance of it, we had to hike to the deepest end of the valley, where the ice pond was, which we all thought was mythical because, prior to that day, we’d only heard about it. It was tucked behind the woods. But the production was quickly aborted—the place was infested with mosquitoes. We ran out of the woods, our bodies marked with bites that swelled up into welts the size of peanut M&Ms.

In late August of ’81, we staged Xanadu. It was our farewell performance. My family was moving out of the valley because our parents decided to end their years-long fighting by splitting up. I remember the fantasy musical had just been released, and Olivia Newton-John’s songs from the soundtrack were already topping the Billboard charts: “Magic,” “Xanadu,” and “Suddenly,” which she sang in a duet with Cliff Richard. In the movie, Olivia/Kira falls for an earthling, a roller-skating, feather-haired heartthrob who ekes out a living designing album covers. Like Ariel in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Kira gets her wish in the end: to leave her heavenly world in exchange for a life of roller skating and uncertainties on the boardwalk of Venice Beach.

Rather than stick to the heavily flawed script about a goddess who gives up immortality for a romance with a down-and-out artist, Geoff decided to just focus on the ending, a six-minute finale of roller disco dancing and singing. It was also the only scene worth salvaging from the two-hour flop. And because we were going to live and make new friends elsewhere, Geoff wanted us to leave our first home in the islands with a bang. That afternoon, we roller skated up and down Murphy Street, singing and dancing like robots, when we weren’t breakdancing, popping and spinning on our backs to the soundtrack of Xanadu. We didn’t care what was going to happen to us the next day. For a moment, we were comforted by our imaginations taking off and magically flying us into the fading sunset, turning back one last time just to wave to the past. As shoo-bop sha wadda wadda yippity boom de boom. Because that’s the way it should be. Wah-oooh, yeah!


R. Zamora Linmark was born in Manila and raised in Honolulu, where he currently resides. He is the author of the best-selling Rolling the R’s (Kaya Press, 1995); Leche (Coffee House Press, 2011); and a young-adult novel, The Importance of Being Wilde at Heart (Delacorte, 2019). He has also published four poetry collections, most recently, Pop Verite (2017), all from Hanging Loose Press, and adapted his work and others’ for the stage.