story by Sue Kiyabu
photos by Sergio Goes
Charley Memminger leans back in his chair, stares hard into the white open-beam ceiling and clamps both fists around his bushel of brown hair. “@#$^! I just finished it two hours ago!” he says. He shakes his head and opens his eyes wide, incredulous. “Two hours!”
Memminger finished his 140th Honolulu Lite column of the year for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin two hours ago and he can’t remember what it was about. He sits at a white-tiled kitchen table on the second floor of his Kane‘ohe home, looking out over Kane‘ohe Bay. His memory, though stalled at the moment, will soon ignite and he will be off, digressing about the column and whatever other else comes to mind. This is why we like Charley, for his loopy digressions and his passion for the day-to-day. Sure, he has fans who clamor for his autograph (ever more of them, thanks to his latest book, Hey Waiter, There’s An Umbrella in My Drink), but he’s also the guy whose shirt isn’t tucked in, our neighbor, our funny friend. An outsider’s insider, Memminger uses Honolulu Lite to hold up a mirror to our city, often reﬂecting the wacky and ridiculous aspects of life in modern Honolulu. He writes about our absurdities with aloha—whether it’s the city’s new $773 trashcans or the underwhelming “eleven-inch” tsunami that wreaked no havoc.
If Honolulu were to pick a face to represent itself to the nation, Memminger wouldn’t be the likely candidate. He’s white. He’s tall. He’s an admittedly poor songbird. He’s not even from Hawai‘i. But if anyone emerges as the columnist’s voice for our multicultural city, it is Memminger. Chicago had Mike Royko. San Francisco had Herb Caen. Miami has Dave Barry and Honolulu has Memminger.
His column sometimes touches on the personal—his dog Boomer, his lovebird Sweetie, his long marriage to wife Margie, his daughter Sarah—but is at its best when reveling in the quirks of Island life: the annoying wild rooster that hangs out in the backyard, uses for used lei, our penchant for what he terms “extreme eating” (“Macaroni salad isn’t ready for consumption until it’s sat in the hot sun on a picnic table for a couple of hours.”) Writing on Honolulu’s lack of placement in a best-and-worst book, Memminger exhorts: “We need to conduct our own research, with categories in which we excel. I’m sure Honolulu would be tops in the category of Cities Where Women Wear the Most Gold Bracelets on One Arm or Cities Where Pupu is a Good Thing.” He also doesn’t shy away from serious matters, writing pieces on hate crimes and politics that wouldn’t be out of place on the editorial page. But then he laughs, “Who reads the editorial page?”