Sharing Mana‘o

This column rarely addresses politics or controversy, at least not in a partisan fashion. That’s because I’m old school, a broadcast news dinosaur who learned her trade back when the line between news and opinion was clearly defined and each had its time and place on the air. KMVI and KNUI followed the old tradition of airing an editorial opinion right after their AM radio newscasts, written and delivered by the bosses – Nora Cooper at KMVI and Tom Elkins at our rival KNUI.

I’d been out of high school for less than a year when I started working at KMVI, which, along with The Maui News, was then owned by Maui Publishing Co. I was the junior member of a two-person news department. News Director Mike Hurley taught me how to write for radio newscasts, concise and factual. No flowery prose or informed analysis. Just the facts, ma’am. Leave the editorializing to Mother Cooper.

When I began covering local stories, my father urged me to emulate his favorite Maui News reporter of that time, Bob Johnson.

He was the best, Daddy said, “because you can never tell by reading his articles how he feels about the issues. That’s a great reporter.”

In Honolulu, news directors like Don Rockwell at KITV-4 and Don Robbs at KHVH Newsradio echoed Daddy’s sentiments and Hurley’s lessons. (Ironic note: After moving on to TV news, Hurley was eventually fired for editorializing. Actually, it was his unfortunate choice of four-letter words in an outtake which mistakenly aired on the 6 o’clock news. Rockwell’s the one who fired him and then hired me.)

Now, as a columnist, not a reporter, I’m free to share my mana’o – my thoughts, opinions, ideas – and I do, except for politics. Though I haven’t worked in broadcast news for over two decades, I still feel obligated to that seemingly obsolete standard of objectivity. And because of my biennial engagement, reporting election results on Akaku, I’ve felt justified in keeping my political views private.

Until last week and the frenzy of post-Inauguration punditry that persisted for days. Having heard and read all the passionate discourse on what the president himself called “the most significant event of the week,” I just have to toss in my two cents. I like Michelle Obama’s bangs.

I admit I’m partisan, being a banger myself. I empathize with the first lady; I know how nerve-wracking it is to see the first lock of hair fall from your forehead as you second-guess your decision. Unlike a little trim, cutting bangs changes your look drastically, and not always for the better. But I was surprised by the number of folks who dissed not only the First Bangs, but bangs in general.

OK, I should also admit that I haven’t always been big on bangs. From toddlerhood through junior high, my mother cut my hair. She kept it short, in a pixie cut, with what she called “rat bite” bangs. She was really good at it; my bangs always looked natural, not chopped, although occasionally they rode way too high on my forehead, like those awful haircuts George Clooney and Antonio Banderas sported some years ago.

But I was fine with my little girl bangs, until one day when my friends and I were playing Three Stooges, and they said I had to be Moe because he and I had the same haircut. I guess I should have been grateful that I didn’t have Larry’s hair or Curly’s lack thereof, but that didn’t occur to me then.

By 6th or 7th grade, most of my female classmates had medium length to long hair. The few of us who still had short hair were Japanese and we got teased about our “chawan (rice bowl) cuts,” so named because they were supposedly made by placing a bowl upside down atop the victim’s head and trimming off all the hair that protruded beyond the bowl. Moe had a chawan cut.

As a teenager, I was finally allowed to grow my hair out, and except for a couple of experiments with layering in my 20s, I’ve kept it long ever since. Once, in my mid-40s, I wanted to try wearing bangs again, but my husband protested. Barry loved my hair unstyled and uncut. He’d sulk whenever I’d trim off an inch or two of split ends.

After Barry’s death in 2007, cutting bangs was a significant step in my transition from grieving widow to independent woman. I don’t know if Michelle’s bangs are as meaningful to her, but she seems to be as happy with hers as I am with mine. And her Barry likes them.

Gee, delving into controversy was much easier than I’d anticipated. Perhaps next week I’ll weigh in on mullets.

* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is

Sharing Mana‘o

Last week’s column on pineapple generated a few comments from readers. Several friends were surprised and disappointed that my reminiscences didn’t include the Maui Pine cannery in Kahului. And part-time Mauians Pat and Hugh sent me a long list of little-known facts about my favorite fruit.

Like the reported use of pineapple as a postoperative treatment in Germany following certain sinus and throat surgeries. Apparently, bromelain (an enzyme found in pineapple) is an effective mucous reducer as well as an anti-inflammatory and digestion aid. According to the emailed article:

* Eating half a cup of fresh pineapple daily will help relieve the pain of arthritic joints.

* Fresh pineapple juice eases morning sickness.

* Pineapple discourages the development of blood clots.

* It helps rid the body of intestinal worms.

* The more “eyes” on a pineapple, the sweeter and juicier it is.

* One cup of fresh pineapple contains nearly 75 percent of the recommended daily amount of manganese, which is critical to the development of strong bones and connective tissue.

* People who eat fresh pineapple daily report fewer allergy-related sinus problems.

All of the above was news to me. I felt a tiny bit sheepish; I was practically raised on pineapple, yet I knew so little about its virtues. Of course, there are a few things I learned long ago that weren’t mentioned in the article, things that are common knowledge among locals. It’s a much shorter list:

* The bottom end is the sweetest part.

* Salt on a sour piece of pineapple makes it more palatable

* People who work in the cannery don’t eat canned crushed pineapple.

The first two were taught to me by my mother when I was a child and ate fresh pineapple practically every day. Mom was the best pineapple slicer because she always left the heart intact, cutting off the meat around it and giving me the woody core. I’d eat it from the top down, saving the best, sweetest end for last.

The crushed pineapple thing I learned on my own. For many years, Maui Land & Pineapple Co. served as a major summer employer for high school and college students. You had to be 16 to work in the cannery, and for thousands of local kids, spending your 16th summer alongside the giant machinery was a required rite of passage. My father made it clear that a cannery job was mandatory, at least for one summer, to learn what hard work was like.

All of my friends, except for one, received the same sentence to hard labor. Lucky Lynne scored a job at Dairy Queen and we all envied her. While she was learning to make perfect curlicues atop ice cream (actually, ice milk) cones, we were picking out cockroach legs and other debris from piles of crushed pineapple. And that was the preferred job.

Most of us were trimmers or packers. Trimmers got paid 5 or 10 cents more per hour because they handled knives. We packers got our hands on the fruit after it had been skinned and sliced into uniform rings. Our job was to pack the stacks of rings into cans as they moved past us on a conveyor belt between the slicer and the can sealer. It was tedious work made even more uncomfortable by the constant scolding of the foreladies who strode from row to row in their white aprons and white hairnets, admonishing us to stop talking, stand up straight and not rest our butts on the high stools so temptingly placed behind us. We could only sit on the stools during breaks, when the machinery line stopped.

After just a few days of cannery work, it seemed like the smell of cooked pineapple had become part of my body chemistry; I couldn’t get it out of my head or my hair. Worst of all was the nightly dream of a giant conveyor belt carrying an endless parade of those wretched yellow things.

I stopped the line myself on one memorable occasion. I was at the last position on the line and carelessly got my glove caught in the mouth of the machine. Fortunately, it was just the glove, not my finger, but the poor forelady didn’t know that. She hit the alarm and the whole cannery came to a grinding halt. I was the hero of the day because we all got to sit on our stools while the bosses extricated my glove and my hand from the machine.

I didn’t make it through the entire summer. My dear father gave me a reprieve after a few weeks, and I got my dream job waiting tables at Sheik’s Restaurant, which was even better than Dairy Queen because we got tips.

* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is

Sharing Mana‘o

I’ve always thought of the pineapple as one of the most familiar symbols of Hawaii, even though it’s a relatively recent arrival, and certainly not exclusive to our islands. If you were to play the old word-association game, where you say a word and the other person has to blurt out the first word that comes to mind, “pineapple” would always evoke the reply “Hawaii!”

Unless the other person lived in Marshall, Mich.

Marshall (pop. 7,167) is the county seat of Calhoun County and home to my son’s future in-laws. When we met for the first time last summer, they surprised me with a pretty, pink souvenir T-shirt, with the words “Marshall, Michigan” and a big pineapple emblazoned on the front. They explained that the city of Marshall had adopted the pineapple as its emblem because the fruit is a universal symbol of hospitality. And because of the Honolulu House.

The house was built in 1960 by Abner Pratt, retired chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court. Pratt had served as U.S. consul to the Sandwich Islands from 1857 to 1859, and missed the islands so much he attempted to recreate his tropical lifestyle in his hometown of Marshall. At a cost of over 15,000 1860 dollars, more than $300,000 in today’s world, Pratt built a mansion that resembled the one he’d left behind, near Honolulu Harbor, with an enormous lanai and a 30-foot-high observation tower. He called it the Honolulu House and furnished it with pineapple-shaped chandeliers, tropical murals, and Hawaiian artifacts including feather capes and tapa cloth. The New York Times described it as “the architectural equivalent of a four-rum cocktail served in a coconut.”

Pratt even had island foods prepared for his houseguests and wore white linen suits throughout the long, harsh Midwestern winters. In March 1863, after braving the chilling rain in his island wardrobe, he contracted pneumonia and died. Alas, his love for Hawaii did him in – or perhaps he had brought back an artifact he shouldn’t have.

The Honolulu House is now a museum, the biggest jewel in the crown of a town noted for its historical preservation and restoration. And pineapples. I didn’t see any growing there, but I left Marshall with my new T-shirt and a gold pineapple pin from the Chamber of Commerce.

So now I have two pineapple T-shirts, both of which stir fond memories for me. The older one is a Maui Land & Pineapple shirt that no longer fits but will always have a place in my closet. Both my mom and my aunt spent their entire professional lives at Maui Pine. Mom retired as records coordinator and Auntie Sachan served as executive secretary to J. Walter Cameron and then to his son, Colin.

Before the Maui Pine executive office moved to the Kahului cannery location, I was a frequent visitor to the little Haliimaile office where Mom and Auntie worked. The haole bosses like Mr. Lydgate and Mr. Dubois reminded me of movie stars, distinguished and kindly gentlemen. My first horseback ride, not counting the little ponies at the County Fair, was atop Mr. DuBois’ Appaloosa. The first gingerbread man I ever tasted was baked by Colin Cameron’s wife, Margaret.

But my pineapple roots extend even further, to my grandmother’s patch of pine in Haiku. Like a number of folks in the area, my dad’s family owned a small field and sold the harvested fruit to the Libby or Haserot canneries. On weekends, my parents and aunts and uncles would don their pineapple-picking jeans and long-sleeved shirts to join my grandmother in the field. As a couple of 4-year-olds, my cousin and I would play in the bed of the old pickup while the grown-ups toiled away, returning to the truck periodically to empty their bulging sacks.

Once, after much begging, Mark and I got to ride to the cannery in the back of the truck, with half a load of freshly picked pine. It probably took less than 10 minutes, but it seemed to last for hours, as we quickly learned why people and pineapples usually ride in separate compartments. With every curve of the winding road, we were bombarded by giant rolling pincushions. We emerged from that adventure with a couple of bruises, lots of scratches, and a little more common sense.

So the choice of a big clumsy fruit with thick, poky skin and a thorny crown to represent hospitality seemed pretty strange to me. According to various Internet sites, the pineapple has been such a symbol to Europeans since the 15th century, after Christopher Columbus brought the exotic plant to Spain from what is now Guadeloupe.

I’ll bet Columbus never rode in the back of the boat with the pineapples.

* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is

Sharing Mana‘o

Howlin’ at the moon, like a dog in heat . . .

– Willie K,

“Howlin’ at the Moon”

It might have been the recent full moon, or perhaps the onset of 2013 (13 is my lucky number, you know), but I’ve been doing my share of howlin’ lately. Even indulged myself in a spur-of-the-moment trip to Honolulu and danced my tail off at Rumours. Yes, Rumours at the Ala Moana Hotel. I was surprised to find the old 1970s/’80s nightspot was still open. And from what I saw, some of the original patrons are still getting their groove on there. A couple of them haven’t even changed their clothes.

I danced my way into the New Year, literally, and I haven’t stopped yet. Well, except for those pesky interruptions like work and sleep, minor distractions from a steady diet of booty shakes. And this Saturday, I’m going on a binge. Gonna binge on the blues.

While I love gettin’ down and funky, and I would never turn down a gentleman’s offer to waltz, there’s a little button somewhere between my heart and my gut that can only be touched by a blues guitar. Push that button and I’m off and running. Or shuffling. Or struttin’, stompin’, or slow draggin’. Doesn’t matter if it came from Mississippi or Memphis, St. Louis or Chicago, the blues always gets me moving. Whether swinging joyously to the jump blues or swaying slowly to a sultry torch song, my body can’t resist the beat.

Music has played a large role in my life, from long before my radio career, thanks to my parents. My father bought my mom a guitar when I was in grade school, and I remember watching her practice in front of the TV, following the instructor on the PBS channel. After dinner each night, Daddy would get out his ‘ukulele and Mom would sing along with him. They didn’t really sing the blues, but the repertoire included lots of “blue” songs: Blue Moon, My Blue Heaven, Blueberry Hill . . .

Ten – make that nearly 11 – years ago, when my late husband and I put Mana’o Radio on the air, we each did a daily air shift. I quickly dubbed my first show of the week “Blues Monday” and devoted three hours every week to nothin’ but the blues. In every shade.

Now, what could a middle-class Asian-American Maui girl know about the blues? I’ve wondered that for most of my adult life. After all, I’ve never come close to suffering the kind of pain and hardship that spawned songs like “Stormy Monday” or “Born Under a Bad Sign.” I’m the first to admit that I’ve been blessed with a charmed, comfortable life. So why does the blues touch me so deeply?

Interviewing Willie K the other day on Mana’o Radio, I asked him about his own love for the genre. He said, “The blues is for everyone. It gets you right in the heart because it’s real life, real feelings, real stories. . . . How many times you been married, girl?”


“Well, I guarantee you’ve got the blues inside you. You could write a big fat book, and I could write hundreds of songs from your stories.”

Come to think of it, I could probably have written that book of blues after just one of those marriages. Oops, that was a cheap shot at my ex-husbands, both of whom might be reading this column online. Sorry, guys, I didn’t really mean it. Hey, that sounds like a blues song.

OK, maybe I ain’t gotta right to sing the blues, but I know I can dance to it. We all can; like Willie said, it’s for everyone. After the first time his “St. Louis Blues” was played in public, W.C. Handy wrote, “When ‘St. Louis Blues’ was written, the tango was in vogue. I tricked the dancers by arranging a tango introduction, breaking abruptly into a low-down blues. My eyes swept the floor anxiously, then suddenly I saw lightning strike. The dancers seemed electrified. Something within them came suddenly to life. An instinct that wanted so much to live, to fling its arms to spread joy, took them by the heels.”

That was in 1914. Nearly 100 years later, the blues continues to grab at our heels and our hearts. Saturday evening I’ll be pushing both to the limit, at Willie K’s Blues on the Blue BBQ, a six-hour bluesfest at Mulligans on the Blue in Wailea. Nothin’ but the blues from 4 to 10 p.m. Willie has assembled a powerhouse lineup featuring Elvin Bishop, Angela Strehli, Mick Fleetwood and more. Much, much more, including Willie and his band, of course. Andy Bumatai will be there and so will I, handling emcee duties in between dancing. And howling.

* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is

Sharing Mana‘o

Here it is, my first column of 2013 and the start of my third year in this space. My plan was to get this installment written weeks ahead of the

due date, knowing I’d be busy with holiday parties and gigs in the days leading up to deadline. I wanted to compose a thoughtful, philosophical piece about the new year and all that it represents to sentimental fools and optimistic dreamers like me.

Ah, but you know what they say about best intentions. Distracted by various news items and personal minicrises, I never got past the first two sentences. Worse yet, in the week

between Christmas and New Year’s Day, I didn’t even complete my traditional year-end rituals.

Like all good Asian-Americans, I feel tremendous pressure to have my house cleaned and my bills paid before the end of the year. Don’t get me wrong; I’m no Suzy Homemaker and between the mortgage and credit cards, I will likely spend my entire adult life in debt. But at least I always organize the piles of junk into nice, neat stacks and I get the monthlies paid on time.

Except for this year. I managed all my payments but not the piles. I did wash my car for the first time in weeks, even vacuumed the inside for the first time ever. But on Dec. 31, when I should have been vacuuming my living room, I was instead relaxing poolside at Ka’anapali Beach Hotel, feeling guilty.

OK, maybe I wasn’t exactly consumed with guilt; actually, I was feeling pretty good, looking forward to co-hosting the KBH New Year’s Eve party with Wilmont Kahaialii. This would be our third time performing together; usually I have the great pleasure of working with his older brother, better known as Willie K.

My mom and I had decided to turn my gig into a two-night staycation at Maui’s Most Hawaiian Hotel, and although it meant losing a full day of valuable housecleaning time, I knew we’d made the right decision as soon as we reached the pali tunnel. All the stress of the holiday season was left on the town side of the tunnel. After gorging ourselves on the fabulous Sunday brunch, we waddled into our room and lounged on our lanai, soaking up the sunshine like a couple of Midwestern refugees.

While Mom napped in our room, I strolled the grounds and took a dip in the pool. I settled down on a bench overlooking the beach to finish this column and was soon interrupted by a cute young man who seemed fascinated by my PlayBook tablet. He was friendly, very polite and we enjoyed a few minutes of small talk. I learned that his name was Brock and he was from Clarksville, Tenn. “As in ‘Take the Last Train to Clarksville’ by The Monkees?”

“Yes!” he replied, beaming broadly.

“I love The Monkees!”

“Me, too!” He even knew the words to their theme song. At least that’s what his mother told me. Did I mention that Brock is 4 years old?

That was the closest I came to romance this New Year’s Eve. But the lack of male company didn’t keep me or my mom from thoroughly enjoying the final hours of 2012. The hotel’s celebration included a delicious dinner with strolling musicians and table-side magic, the always amazing Kupanaha magic show (now in its 12th year at the resort!) and a dance party that continued well after the midnight champagne toast and balloon drop.

For me, the best part of the evening was its theme: “Ka wa ma mua, ka wa ma hope – The future is in our past.” So in between the magic and the music, we talked to the mostly tourist crowd about the importance of knowing our history and our heritage. When I say “our,” I mean all of us. For, as Wilmont is fond of saying, every one of us here shares a common bond. Whether you’re Hawaiian, descended from Polynesian pioneers, or your ancestors came to the islands as contract labor from Asia or Europe, or you just got off the plane from the Mainland, we all came from somewhere else to be here in this special place. That makes us family, ohana.

So as I danced my way into the New Year while Wilmont played DJ and Mom tapped her feet to the beat, I had plenty to think about and be thankful for. Besides family and friends, good health and a good home, I’m grateful for our multicultural Maui. Because embracing our mixed heritage means that I can celebrate the Lunar New Year as well as the Western calendar one. Which means I have another month-and-a-half to get my house in order.

Happy New Year!

* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is