John Bear
John Bear

Editors' note: This is the first column in a series about the only Hawaiian vacation that ever sucked.

Airplane seats are the travel equivalent of being waterboarded, and if you are tall, it's more like the Spanish Inquisition.

By the time we touched down at Honolulu International, I was ready to shove old ladies, cripples and Make-a-Wish kids if it got me off the plane one second faster. I had recently quit drinking and compensated by guzzling six cokes and 12 cups of coffee a day then polishing that off with two packs of Camel Lights. I needed a cigarette.

My mom, stepfather and I were coming to see my brother, who had returned from a tour in Iraq and was stationed at Schofield Barracks. There are still bullet holes from when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and by the end of this trip, I would be praying for them to come back.

I felt slightly offended the girl placing leis on necks and giving hugs out at the gate took one look at me and threw me mine (and no hug). It's hard to feel good about yourself when the 400-pound tourist in front of you gets hugs and you elicit an expression like you're wearing a trench coat and no pants.

My brother picked us up and drove to a fancy hotel at Waikiki Beach. I hadn't seen my brother in more than a year, although he had somehow managed to call five times a day while he was in Iraq. I always dropped whatever I was doing to talk to him and agree with whatever he said, even if it was "UB40 is an awesome band."


My mom came to our room and we ordered sandwiches and sodas from room service and watched "Sideways" on pay-per-view. It was nice to have my family back together, and it was nice to see my brother in one piece.

And that was the highlight of the trip (although I did have a very good banana from a roadside fruit stand). Once the movie was over, my brother and I walked to the hotel bar, where he drank 20 beers and listened to "In the Air Tonight" 12 times on repeat while explaining the lyrics loudly in my ear. I didn't care much for Phil Collins then, and I hate him now.

We found out later that my brother suffered a traumatic brain injury and was struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder. Without discounting that, he was an asshole of the highest order to begin with. All the drinking, fighting and antisocial qualities he exhibited upon his return — he engaged in them with equal frequency before he ever saw the inside of an Army post. Psychiatric and neurological disorders did not help.

I'm not always the easiest person to be around, either. Quitting booze sent me on a hypomanic rocketship ride to another dimension. I'm not going to lie. It was awesome. But the two of us together (and mostly him) made for one of the worst Hawaiian vacations of all time.

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