“Are you LeRoy’s brother?”
Although I could tell that Orlando was joking, it was a huge compliment nonetheless. To be told I might resemble LeRoy Schmaltz, co-founder of Oceanic Arts is a huge compliment. LeRoy has well-documented shirtless and bearded swagger, and is likely the most prolific tiki carver of our time.
“I used to show up here and make Q.B’s for Bob and LeRoy in the afternoon.”
Apparently, although Orlando never worked at OA, he’d come and act as bartender to the men for many years. With rum and ingredients in hand, he’d mix up a batch of Q.B. Coolers – the Don the Beachcomer drink with a Mai Tai mystery past – and provide the crew an end-of-day distraction from the never ending carving demands and shipping orders. The drink seemed a fitting choice, given the name. Q.B. stands for “Quiet Birdmen,” a reference to the fraternity of aviators from the first World War. Orlando, LeRoy, Bob, and the crew seemed to have created their own fraternity over drinks at Oceanic Arts. Who wouldn’t have wanted an invitation to the Q.B. gathering for one of those afternoons?
“Bob didn’t like me showing up too early, but he’d eventually join us at the table.”
Orlando had come to the Oceanic Arts farewell event to say goodbye to a place he called a second home for many years. Decked out in his beachcomber hat, aloha shirt, and multiple tiki pendants, he showed me one of his prize possessions, a beautiful ceramic flask in the shape of a huge shark tooth. Orlando held it out for me to take. I held it gingerly, worried of the unforgiving cement floors of the warehouse below us, admired it, and gave it back. Orlando placed it in the leather holster for safekeeping, and I felt honored to have been trusted for a brief moment with his treasure.
I could see how drinking with Orlando would put a man at ease. Within a span of a few minutes, and despite my nerves for the presentation I was about to give, he treated me like a friend. He took me on a quick tour to show me some of his favorite carvings, noting that if he had the money, he’d want another one of Bob’s New Guinea masks to complement the intricately painted war club that Bob had done for him years ago. I told him about my home tiki adventures, and he was genuinely excited to hear about my travels. After a spell, I thanked him for his kindness, and made my way to the outdoor stage to prepare for my talk.
Within a few minutes, Orlando had found me again. But in this encounter, he had a new home tiki bar owner in tow. He wanted to connect the two of us to talk, and was so excited that he’d rushed out and kindly insisted that we meet. He introduced us, we started talking, but the homeowner began with sad news.
“Orlando just broke his prized flask.”
In his excitement, Orlando had quickly gotten up from his seat. When he rose, the flask fell out of its leather harness and onto the floor. What I had held only moments before was now in pieces.
Sadly, it seemed connected to the ethos of the evening. Here we found ourselves in a place that held so much history, so much creativity, so much excitement, and so much fraternity. Soon this hallowed place, like the flask, would never be the same.
Sometimes you want to hold your breath and make the world stop spinning just long enough to take it all in before it slips away. I’m still holding my breath.