Talk Story with Roy Saito

  • Caleb Loehrer / The Garden Island

    Roy Saito sits in his Hardy Street, Lihue shop, Gold-Express Inc.

  • Caleb Loehrer / The Garden Island

    A 1935 German Luger .765 caliber pistol is just one of the rare pieces to be found at Lihue’s Gold-Express Inc.

  • Caleb Loehrer / The Garden Island

    A rare, rabbit-fur German sniper’s jacket from World War II is on display at Gold-Express Inc. on Hardy Street in Lihue.

Roy Saito owns Gold-Express Inc. on Hardy Street in Lihue. I sat down to talk story with him Friday afternoon. This is how it went.

•••

“I mostly buy gold, silver and platinum. You know, gold chains and jewelry.”

It turns out people sell their precious metals for a bunch of reasons.

“I’ve helped people save homes. I’ve helped Boy Scouts go on trips, baseball teams go on trips, people going for cancer treatments. I mean, there’s hundreds of different reasons why people do it. It’s a service I’m offering that actually takes something that may have no value sitting in a box and turn it into something of value — spendable money.”

“I collect all kinds of weird stuff. All for sale. People come in, bring their scraps, and they pick up stuff.”

“This is all my stuff. I buy metal as a business. You know, but if someone wants it, I can’t keep it forever. I got stuff in storage too, that I would love to put in here, but as you can tell, not much room left.”

I asked how long he’s been collecting.

“Ten years. There’s just … odds and ends.”

“That picture was made in 1859. That was printed off a steel plate and then hand-painted for the Queen of England. I bought that at one of the galleries down there, along with that searchlight that’s sitting in the corner. That’s off a commercial freighter. It’s a daylight signal light. It’s sitting on top of a wooden barrel that’s probably a hundred years old. And then the box that radio is sitting on has a Darth Vader costume in it.”

•••

“I did this with the whole intention of one thing — make enough to pay my bills and I’m happy. What else do I need? I got this. I’m married, and I’m happy. Everything’s good. I don’t want to be miserable either. So, a few dollars here and there to go out to eat once in a while, and we’re good. I get to help people. Like I said, I get to help send people to leukemia treatments. I funded kids going to Washington, D.C., for their trips. I’ve done Boy Scout trips. I’ve done all kinds of stuff like that. I have no problem giving extra if it’s an organization that needs it.”

I asked for an example.

“OK, back to the Boy Scouts. They had some jamboree they wanted to go to. And the offer was, stop hitting your parents up for money, cause they live in Kauai, and they can’t afford all that. But ask your parents to go through their metals — stuff they don’t use anyway — broken chains, one earring, that kinda stuff. It’s laying in a box doing nothing. Fund your trip with that. Have your parents gather it up. Bring it here. I’ll give you a better deal than most because it’s for a reason. And you can get this trip without having to financially kill yourself. And it works. A lady friend of mine has a house on the shoreline on the North Shore. Several years ago, she was in the position of losing her house. But she had metal. So we worked on trying to save her house. She’d bring me the stuff, we’d go through it. If I couldn’t buy it, I’d find someone who could. So we saved her house by going through her stuff.”

“It met her need. It met my need. And I got to meet great people.”

•••

“All this stuff came to me,” Roy said, looking around his shop. “I don’t go looking for it.”

“I have a sword from 1899. From the Austrian Navy. It’s not much of a thing to look at.”

He showed it to me.

“It’s from the Austro-Hungarian Navy or Imperial and Royal War Navy. It’s a naval force shared by Austria and Hungary — part of the eight nation alliance from 1899 to 1901.”

I asked about an old-looking gas mask on a shelf behind him.

“It’s from World War II. Actually that container next to it —the large one — is actually the container for it, and the little one is actually a cook stove. I always make jokes about how they wore all these metal containers so when they went to the forest, they called them clinks. Cause all they did was go ‘clink clink clink.’”

A friend of Roy’s named Leeland, who had stopped by the shop to visit, laughed and said, “Colonel Clink!”

“Yeah,” Roy said, “they made a lot of racket moving around, carrying all that junk.”

Leland was getting ready to move on. “Well, Caleb, God bless you up one side and down the other, my brother from another mother,” he said as he was walking out the door.

I said goodbye to Leland and asked Roy about a long leather coat hanging on the back wall of his shop.

“That’s an SS jacket. I wore it for Halloween one year, with that hat.” He pointed at a Nazi officer’s cap.

I tried on the coat. It was heavy. Roy offered to sell it to me for $700. I declined.

He showed me the coat’s features, pointing out the pockets in the inside lining. “See? Place to carry your dagger. Place to carry your gun.”

“You ever woke up and realize you can’t remember the combination?” Roy was fiddling with the lock on a five-foot tall safe behind his desk. Eventually he figured it out and pulled out a gun — “a 1935 German Luger. 765 caliber.” He handed it to me. “Not many people get to play with that.”

“It’s amazing to shoot cause the barrel recoils. Everything moves in it. There’s a hundred and something parts in that gun. When it shoots, it stays put. It doesn’t jump around. It absorbs all the recoil off that gun.

He put the gun back in the safe and pulled down another coat. “That’s a sniper jacket from World War II, done out of rabbit fur.”

“In Germany during the war, basically the only thing they could eat was rabbits. They were everywhere. It was a staple of food cause that’s all there was. So, hence the fur.”

Another friend had wandered in the shop. “I skinned many rabbits in my life as a kid,” he said sipping a cup of black coffee Roy had poured him, admiring the sniper jacket.

Roy offered to sell it to me for $500. I declined.

•••

Roy showed me his lunch.

“You buy Lays potato chips, and you buy one of these in the popcorn section.” The label on the plastic cylinder said “dill pickle popcorn seasoning.”

“You dump a bunch in the bag and shake it. That’s been my lunch today.” He opened the bag. “Try it. It’s very addictive.”

I tried some. Not bad. Very salty.

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