The Sour Poi Awards 2013
Celebrating the best of the worst of 2013 — the dumb, the deranged and the indefensible.
Illustration: Andrew J. Catanzariti
A STICKY SITUATION
In September, a pipe operated by Matson spilled 233,000 gallons of molasses into Honolulu Harbor. State officials have called it one of the worst environmental disasters ever recorded in Hawaii, as it killed hundreds of coral heads, and at least 26,000 fish. Environmental scientists predicted long-term effects, because, unlike oil, molasses sinks in water, making it all but impossible to clean up.
When State Rep. Faye Hanohano found out in February that none of the artwork being installed in her state Capitol office had been created by Native Hawaiians, she did not handle the news well. After calling the paintings “ugly,” she told the exhibit specialists, “Any work done by haoles, Japs, paranges, pakes, you can just take away right now.” She also said if she didn’t get any pieces from Hawaiian artists, she’d cut funding to the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, which oversees the “Art in Public Places” program. Hanohano later made a public apology, but said her tirade was “intended to be an impassioned plea for increasing the visibility and support for Native Hawaiian artists.”
Kahului Airport lost power for about half an hour in February, after a chicken got too close to a Maui Electric Co. transformer in the area. No official word on the bird’s fate, but we’ve got a guess.
GREAT MOMENTS IN MARKETING
In January, someone running the Facebook page for radio station Island 98.5 thought it would be a great idea to get some listener feedback with a quiz. The post, which was quickly deleted, read, “It’s time to play the game show sweeping the nation … THE STEREOTYPE GAME!!!!!!! One word answers only, I give you the ethnicity you give the ONE WORD: MICRONESIAN.” The post was quickly deleted when, inevitably, racist answers started pouring in.
BLESSINGS FROM ABOVE
Maui police didn’t have to go far to arrest a trespassing woman in January—after allegedly entering the crawlspaces of the Kihei Police Station from somewhere outside the building, 34-year-old Sheryl Vazquez fell through the ceiling and landed on the floor of the prisoner processing room.
THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES
Honolulu lost one of its most colorful rascals in 2013 when billionaire Genshiro Kawamoto sold the bulk of his Kahala properties to A&B, presumably to focus on the tax-evasion charges facing him in Japan. We’ll miss Kawamoto, whose outlandish habits made him a perennial Sour Poi contender, whether it was giving Hawaiian families free rent in multimillion-dollar mansions, creating fanciful statuaries that annoyed his neighbors, or filling in the pools of his vacant graffiti-ridden properties with rocks. Love him or hate him, Kawamoto was never boring. (Read the full story on Kahala’s most notorious landowner.)
TO MEET UP WITH A PRIEST, A RABBI AND A MINISTER, NO DOUBT
In April, a man tried to enter Circuit Court with a bag containing two 40-ounce bottles of beer and a live duck. Michael Hubbard initially tried to run the bag through the X-ray screening machine, but when the officer got suspicious at the weirdly shaped contents on screen, he asked Hubbard to open up his bag. After initially refusing, he finally revealed his little buddy. Neither alcohol nor live animals are admitted in court, but Hubbard needed to see his court officer, so he left his duck, and his drinks, at the security checkpoint for the deputies to babysit. Afterward, he claimed the duck and the 40s again and headed down the road.
In February, a 9-year-old boy tried to rob a convenience store—not for money, but for ice cream. After entering the Kalihi store and threatening the 58-year-old clerk with a dangerous instrument, he tried to grab a treat from the ice-cream freezer. Sadly for him, the freezer was empty, and he ran from the story empty-handed. Police arrested the kid on suspicion of first-degree robbery.
Forty-three-year-old Allen James Pitts must have mistaken Waikiki for the latest Grand Theft Auto game in June when he stole a dump truck and led police on a chase around the neighborhood, smashing into two cop cars, several parking meters and a coconut tree before bailing and trying to escape into the ocean. Police arrested him about 90 minutes later, treading water off Kaimana Beach.
LOOKS LIKE WE'VE GOT OUR EXCUSE NEXT TIME OUR BOOKS ARE OVERDUE
The state public library system’s website went down in February after library staff neglected to renew the domain name. Said library spokesperson Paul Mark, “It was an honest mistake.”
A man got a nasty surprise in September when a big, red surfboard smashed through the front windshield of the car he was driving on the H-1 Freeway, narrowly missing his head. The board apparently fell from the Punahou Overpass, although no one stepped up to claim responsibility for the rogue board.
PROBABLY NOT WHAT THEY MEANT BY "STOP THE RAIL"
In January, the Pearlridge Center monorail broke down just short of the Ross store, trapping eight people inside for two hours before Honolulu firefighters came to the rescue.
SORRY TO DISAPPOINT YOU, BILL
Caan wasn’t the only one taking shots at Hawaii this year. In January, media personality Bill O’Reilly aired a piece on Hawaii’s “rampant” drug addition, homelessness and “enormous debt.” In it, he wondered about the state’s liberal, Democratic bent, saying, “Asian people are not liberal by nature. They’re usually more industrious and hard-working.”
HEY SCOTT, ALOHA MEAN HELLO AND GOODBYE
Hawaii Five-O co-star Scott Caan ruffled local feathers during a January appearance on Chelsea Handler’s TV show, when he said he hated working in Hawaii. Among his complaints: There’s “a lot of crystal meth,” the food “sucks,” and everything is “very slow motion.” He told Handler, “Everything is too relaxed for me. I like to hustle and there is no hustle there.”
IS IT WRONG TO HOPE FOR A WEDDING AND A HYPENATED NAME CHANGE?
A Big Island woman ran into hassles in August because her driver’s license didn’t display her full name. Why? Turns out the state’s computer systems couldn’t accommodate her 35-character last name: Keihanaikukauakahihuliheekahaunaele. After the woman’s predicament hit the press, a state Department of Transportation spokesperson promised that the system would be upgraded by the end of the year to accommodate 40 letters for first and last names and 35 characters for middle names.
I THINK YOU MEANT FOOT-IN-MOUTH
UH football coach Norm Chow had a rough season, winning only a single game. After one particularly brutal loss in November, against Utah State, Norm was quoted by a reporter as saying, “I’m too old for this.” He later rushed to disavow the statement, saying, “I’m not going to quit ever,” and clarifying that he had been speaking tongue-in-cheek.
THE RAINBOW CORRECTION
UH athletic director Ben Jay sparked a mini-firestorm of controversy among long-time fans in February when he announced that all of the UH men’s sports teams were going to be known simply as Warriors, dropping the “Rainbow” moniker entirely. He clearly underestimated Hawaii’s love for its ‘Bows—just three months later, he reversed his decision, naming all the men’s teams, “Rainbow Warriors.”
WHAT THE H?
The University of Hawaii’s distinctive “H” logo has turned out to be unexpectedly popular with Mainland high school teams. This fall, UH sent a cease-and-desist notice to the Hooker Horney Toads, an Oklahoma high school team that was using the distinctive jagged H on its helmets, except in purple. The Horney Toads weren’t the first to appropriate the logo—in 2010, UH came to a licensing agreement with the Hightower Hurricanes in Texas, which had also been repping the H.
HEADLINE OF THE YEAR
“‘Time to go back on shore,’ Surfer Tells Self After Shark Attack”
– Honolulu Star-Advertiser, July 31
Former UH president Evan Dobelle may have gotten out of the Islands with a $1 million settlement in 2004, despite accusations of mismanagement and deception, but he never managed to escape trouble entirely. In November, he retired as president of Westfield State University in Massachusetts, after being placed on leave so the school could investigate allegations that Dobelle was recklessly spending school funds for personal expenses.
DOES NOT COMPUTE
In June, the federal government demanded that Hawaii give back more than half a million dollars in stimulus funds, after learning that it had been used to buy computers and multimedia equipment for a nonprofit three years ago, but that the equipment was never even taken out of its boxes. Federal officials, understandably, called it “not a prudent or reasonable” use of their money.
In May, Halekulani Hotel apologized to Hawaiian musician Weldon Kekauoha after he and his family, who were at the hotel’s pool, enjoying a Mother’s Day weekend staycation, were questioned by security guards after another guest did not believe they were guests. Said Kekauoha, “It’s quite obvious that we were singled out purely because of the color of our skin.”
OFF WITH HER HEAD
Eva Laird Smith announced her resignation from her position as executive director of the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts in November after a flap over the misuse of a 1968 photo of kumu hula Iolani Luahine. The headless image of the renowned Hawaiian cultural figure appeared in promotional material for Hawaii Fashion Month, and on coffee mugs, T-shirts, tote bags and other swag, offending many in the Native Hawaiian community.
SIGNED, SEALED, DELIVERED (NOT YOURS)
In October, just as University of Hawaii officials had almost blocked out the memory of getting scammed out of $200,000 with an imaginary Stevie Wonder concert, the Motown legend showed up in Honolulu for real—to perform a private show in Waikiki for the Oracle Corp. employees of billionaire Larry Ellison.
WELL, YOU DO NOW
On the other hand, UH may have finally learned a lesson in the wake of the Wonder Blunder. In October, it made sure to announce that it turned down a pitch for a Bruno Mars benefit concert after it learned that the person proposing the show had no connection to Mars. Said athletic director Ben Jay, “We thoroughly vet whomever brings anything like that to us.”
BLOCK THEIR WAY
Aerosmith rock star Steven Tyler campaigned, unsuccessfully, for a new law that would have allowed celebrities to sue photographers who invaded their privacy. Fawning lawmakers backed off after media critics pointed out the bill undermined First Amendment rights, and was “overly broad and vague.”
BONES OF CONTENTION
A 16-year-old mural at the Hawaii Convention Center was temporarily censored with black cloth in September after a complaint from Native Hawaiian advocate Paulette Kaleikini. She called artist Hans Ladislaus’s depiction of Hawaiian iwi “insensitive.” After a meeting convened by the Hawaii Tourism Authority, it was announced that the mural would be uncovered once again, thanks to an agreement reached “based on sincere mutual respect between the involved parties.”
HOPE YOU LIKE WORKING
The state’s largest public pension fund fell short this past year by $8.4 billion dollars—the worst shape it’s been in since 1980. Changes to the fund management in July are promised to start to turn things around, but it’s estimated that it’ll take 30 years to accrue enough money to pay all benefits that are due to qualified recipients.
State lawmaker Tom Brower made national news in November when he began wandering the streets of his district with a sledgehammer, harassing the homeless. In addition to waking up people he saw sleeping on the street during the day and telling them to “Get your ass moving,” Brower says he smashed 30 shopping carts being used by homeless people. Predictably, his crusade sparked a firestorm of controversy; after two weeks of being called “mean-spirited” and a bully, Brower decided to hang up his hammer, claiming his point had been made. “I guess I shouldn’t use the sledgehammer because it’s a really loaded image,” he said.
THE HARDEST KNOCKS COME OFF THE FIELD
Few people had a rougher year in 2013 than Manti Teo. After Deadspin broke the news in January that Teo’s supposed late girlfriend was actually more like an imaginary girlfriend, the Notre Dame All-American linebacker and Laie native had to endure a national whirlwind of suspicion and scorn. The media frenzy calmed down after it became clear that Teo had been the victim of a catfishing hoax, but the damage had been done. Although he had at one point been thought of as a strong first-round draft pick contender, he ended up as the 38th overall pick in the second round by the San Diego Chargers. And, in October, Forbes Magazine ranked Teo second on its annual list of the NFL’s Most-Disliked Players, just under convicted dog-fighter Michael Vick.