Blackie Gadarian was a never-met friend. It was a one-way relationship, but friend he was, sharing a love of Maui and a tendency to come up with quirky, common-sense observations of life on the island.
For nearly a decade, I began and ended every working day processing letters to the editor. A day that included a letter from Blackie was a delight - much like finding a note in a bottle from a far-off land, which Lahaina surely was for those of us on the other side of the island.
Except for readers of The Maui News Opinion Page, Blackie was best known for his machine shop, topped by a bar. He and his watering hole were transplants. He began in New York. The bar originally topped the terminal at the old Kaanapali Airport.
An early memory of Maui: A friend shows up with a nice looking Chevy pickup truck. "It has a Corvette engine," the friend enthused. "They made the swap at Blackie's." The truck was fast when the accelerator linkage didn't come apart. "No sweat," the friend said. "It's easy to put back together when it stops going."
From all indications, Blackie respected dirty fingernails. In 1987, he and his wife, Sara, began giving more than 190 $1,000 scholarships to vocational students at Lahainaluna High School. It's easy to imagine Blackie was an enthusiastic gear head, particularly after reading a 2012 letter:
"It is a tragedy when a man loses his driver's license.
"My wife, Sara, now drives me whenever I need to go places. I watch Sara stopping at a traffic light. She stops at too many lights. In fact, she is a boring driver. I was an exciting driver.
"When we men get in my position, we don't dare complain or criticize, or we will end up walking.
"I feel like a pet dog sitting in the passenger seat. Very emasculating. . . . Maybe I could qualify for a dog license. Woof, woof."
His wife came in for a fair amount of public criticism. Once, she replied via a letter of her own. "I have to answer my husband's Dec. 25 letter of accusations about my poor cooking skills. . . . I have given up. If he wants an Armenian dinner, she should have married an Armenian."
During the years, Blackie wrote letters commenting on issues of the day, including misplaced bus stops, the decades-long delay in getting the Lahaina Bypass built and even the touchy subject of Hawaiian culture.
While supporting an annual Halloween party in Lahaina, he wrote: "Front Street has been recognized by its diversity of experiences throughout its history. Those who want to preserve the original Hawaii culture should move to Niihau. The original Hawaiian culture is not here any more." You can argue with his conclusion, but not with the courage it took to make that kind of statement.
He sometimes disguised a serious comment with humor, such as his letter on the proliferation of gated communities on Maui. "Are these gates there to keep people out, or are they there to keep the inmates inside?"
But serious commentary wasn't Blackie's primary focus. The most enjoyable letters ran to the absurd.
* "In the past when we found a roach in our kitchen, we assumed it came from the market in one of the bags or containers. Now that many of us are using our own shopping bags when we go shopping, the roaches are returning to the market by hiding in our bags. The roaches are just trying to go back home."
* "The word 'feral' means becoming undomesticated and wild. . . . How about holiday shoppers who go wild at the mall? And don't people at rock concerts also go wild? We see frantic travelers grabbing for their baggage at the airport. Or shoving others aside trying to get their huge carry-ons down from the overhead on a plane. And don't we go feral when we are trying to get a parking place? There is a little feral in all of us."
* "With all the troubles of the world, we can always be sure of a few things in life. One of the things we take for granted are doorknobs. They are invaluable."
* "Years ago there was a lot of roadkill - dogs, cats and even mongooses - on the streets of Maui. I have seen very little roadkill lately. Either the animals are running faster or the drivers have bad aim."
* "Every time I think life is tough, I realize that some things are easy. Drumsticks are easy to eat. They have handles for picking them up. Shrimp have built-in handles, too. And best of all, French fries have two handles - one at each end."
Arsene "Blackie" Gadarian died July 21. He was 91. He'll be missed, especially by readers and a one-time editor of letters to the editor.
* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.