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Kermet Apio's Laugh Corner

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February 2007


Aloha Swap Meet


Last month I got to re-experience the cultural beacon of Hawaii retail life that is the Swap Meet. I feel your jealousy and it pleases me. The swap meet is the perfect marriage between capitalism and bartering, and it also guarantees that the magical shrinking surf pattern t-shirt will never die. It is a tradition that dates back to the early Hawaiians when a man was about to throw away a sugar cane stalk he had been sucking on and his wife suggested he stand there and try to sell it to a passerby as a hat.

The swap meet takes place every Wednesday and Saturday in the non-existent shadow of the Aloha Stadium. It attracts people who are looking for a good deal as well as people who just enjoy a 108 degree stroll on asphalt. It is so hot. The day I was there it was very close to the temperature at which rubber melts. That I learned because you couldn’t tell where the slipper ended and the skin of my foot began. There is a guy who will break open a refreshing coconut for you for $7, which is a great price if you just got off of an airplane from Kansas . I can get the knife at my parent’s house and a coconut at the park for free. Plus, coconut juice basically means that in five minutes I will again be hot AND in desperate need of a port-a-potty. I shall pass on your sweet overpriced laxative.

People sell all types of products at the swap meet like t-shirts, crafts, musical instruments, t-shirts, toys, luggage, t-shirts, art, CD’s, and even t-shirts. And no matter what you buy, if you buy ten of them, you will get a really good discount. When I was a kid my father would load up the truck and spend a few hours at the swap meet on his way to the dump. His inventory could best be described as “crap from the house.” Here is the typical Thursday or Sunday conversation:

ME: “Where’s my Members Only jacket?”

DAD: “Tied around the waist of a nice man from Waipahu who had $5. Oh, he also has your Journey record. I did get you a t-shirt.”

Last year I was looking for new luggage and saw a beautiful Hawaiian print suitcase prominently displayed next to a rack of t-shirts. On close inspection I deduced that the suitcase was made out of a material that ranked in strength somewhere between construction paper and cheesecloth. It was held together by duct tape and gum. Sure there was a good chance I would arrive at my destination, look out the window of the plane, and see my clothes coming down the ramp with the shards of a swap meet bag, but at $35, isn’t it worth the risk? Most 24” suitcases run about $150. See, I lose money by not buying it. As I assesed the investment risk factors, the nice Chinese man threw in a wrinkle. Because I seemed like a good guy, he would give me a deal. $28. Wow, purely because this man can sense (just by watching me look at a bag) that I am truly a nurturing person who cares about others, he is willing to cut into his profits to throw some Karma my way. I got one word for you, my friend: SOLD! Three months later I had to look for a new suitcase. Same guy, same deal. Sweet. The total price of two bags still wasn’t half that of a good one. And all because I’m a good guy. I win!

Years ago at the swap meet I caught up to my aunty who was looking at a brand new wok that was still in the plastic wrap in the box. She was telling the guy she only had $4 but he insisted he wanted $5 for it. Well, knowing that new woks cost about $50, I thought I’d help out. I said “I have a dollar” and I handed it to the man. Everybody’s happy right? No. As we walked away, I got the stink eye.

“Do you think I don’t have $5?” She asked.


“Of course I do. I could have gotten this for $4.”

“I’m sorry. I thought $5 was a good deal.”

“Auwe! Here’s a dollar. Go look at t-shirts.”

There is a correct way to buy things at the swap meet. Apparently paying the price the seller is asking is so NOT it. I think the goal is not just to get a good deal, but to work the seller into submission so bad that he or she begs you to mercifully take the item for free and offers to buy you a refreshing $7 coconut.

By the way, for those of you reading this who got an authentic Hawaiian t-shirt from me for Christmas, yours is not one of the shirts described in this column. Although you may not want to wash it unless you plan to lose a lot of weight. And height.

Anybody need suitcase wheels?

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