Sharing Mana‘o

I have to add my voice to the chorus of “Bravo!” for the Maui Academy of Performing Arts production of “Les Miserables.” Brilliantly executed in every aspect, the show ended its six-performance run at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Castle Theater last Sunday.

But “Les Miz” wasn’t the only crowd-pleaser at the MACC last weekend. On Saturday night, over in the McCoy Studio Theater, a much smaller audience enjoyed the antics of four young and hip, smart and sassy comedians . . . and my mother.

When Mom heard that the cast of “Sullivan & Son” would be performing at the MACC, she asked if we could go. She’s a fan of the sitcom, which stars co-creator Steve Byrne as a corporate lawyer who leaves his lucrative job to take over the neighborhood bar owned by his Irish-American father and Korean mother. The stand-up comedy tour features Byrne and three of the bar regulars, but not Mom’s favorite character, Ok Cha, the mother. That’s OK, Mom said, she still wanted to see the show. I had a prior commitment, so my cousin Betty graciously volunteered to take her.

The first hint that I’d missed the comedy highlight of the year came in a voice mail left by Tony Takitani. “Your mother was a riot tonight . . . she stole the show!” It was too late in the evening to call him back; I had to wait until morning to get the full review.

Eventually, I heard accounts from Tony and others who were there, including Mom herself, but I wish someone had captured the moment on video. I’ll bet Steve Byrne feels the same. She’d be a great addition to his website.

Seated in the front row, Mom caught Byrne’s attention right away. She said he was polite when he asked her age, and flabbergasted when she answered, “88.”

“What’s your name?”


“Well, Amy . . .”


Apparently he continued to mispronounce her name on purpose, but she let it slide. “He was really very nice. But I couldn’t hear a lot of what he was saying anyway,” she told me.

Of course, comedy doesn’t always require words. Mom’s star turn came when the guys seated her on stage for an up-close view of their, uh, sexy dancing. She’s never been to a male strip joint, but she has seen “Magic Mike,” so the comics’ PG-13 routine didn’t shock or embarrass her at all. In fact, she got right into the spirit of the bit and joined in the gyrations, stopping short of giving – or getting – a lap dance. At least that’s what everyone, including Mom, told me.

After the show, the comedians gave Mom an official tour T-shirt and posed for a picture with her. Betty emailed me the photo; it’s adorable. Mom is half the size and three times the age of the men huddled around her, and they’re all grinning like a bunch of old friends at a reunion. Steve Byrne thanked her for attending and for being a good sport. She thanked him too and told him to be sure and come back. “Next time, bring your mom,” she said.

She also informed him that she’d seen him perform once before, when he was here in 2007 with the Kims of Comedy, four Korean-American comics. She was by far the oldest one in that audience too. Headliner Bobby Lee (MADtv) stripped down to his little Speedo briefs and did a pole dance with the microphone stand on the Castle stage.

We didn’t have front-row seats for that one (thank goodness!), but outside the theater we met Lee and he happily posed for a photo with Mom.

Half an hour later, Mom and I were enjoying a post-show dinner at IHOP when the entire Kims entourage sauntered in. Bobby Lee spotted us from the door and left the group to approach our table. The irreverent maniac we’d seen on stage and at the meet-and-greet had vanished; in his skin was a sweet, almost shy, young gentleman. He thanked us for coming to the show, then with great sincerity, apologized to Mom for its content. He was concerned that she might have been offended or discomforted by his striptease.

She smiled, “I was hoping you’d take off more!”

Mom’s been in the front row at each of the five one-woman shows I’ve done at the McCoy. The sign on her reserved seat usually reads “Tita’s Maddah.” I think for the next one, I’ll follow Steve Byrne’s example and put her on the stage instead.

We’ll call the show “Yaemi & Daughter.”

* 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

Hot August night . . . and the leaves hangin’ down and the grass on the ground smellin’ . . . sweet.

– From “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show”

by Neil Diamond

Sweltering in my living room on a recent hot August night, I couldn’t get “Brother Love’s” opening lyrics out of my sweaty head. I took it as a message and went for an evening drive with my Neil Diamond CD.

I love Neil Diamond. He’s one of my guilty pleasures. Bill Murray as the title character in the movie “What about Bob?” declares, “There are two types of people in the world: Those who like Neil Diamond and those who don’t.”

My late husband was in the latter group. He was amused by my fondness for what he considered corny schmaltz and theorized that the only reason I liked Neil Diamond songs was that they were all in my key. Neil and I are both smoky baritones. Of course, he’s much better at it than I. But that doesn’t stop me from singing along whenever I hear his husky, earthy vocals. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen in public very often.

Davy Jones will always be my No. 1 bubblegum idol, my first tweenybopper crush. But soon after I’d outgrown the Monkees, Neil was seducing me with “Sweet Caroline” and “Holly Holy.” “Sweet Caroline” was released three days after my 12th birthday and it was one of my jukebox favorites at the old Aloha Lanes. Friday nights, while our parents bowled, we kids ruled the jukebox. Three songs for a quarter. Good times never seemed so good . . .

The “Hot August Night” double LP came out when I was a junior at Baldwin High. My best friend Barbara got it for Christmas, I think, and we listened to it on her parents’ stereo console, over and over, while doing our homework. A good deal of study time was spent examining the album cover: Neil in skin-tight blue jeans, beaded denim shirt open halfway to his waist, his hands provocatively placed as though he were playing an invisible saxophone.

I don’t know about Barbara, but whenever “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” played, I couldn’t concentrate on anything, not even the album cover. Please, come take my hand. Girl, you’ll be a woman soon. Soon you’ll need a man. At 15, the last thing I needed was a man, but oh, how I wanted one, just like Neil, to take my hand and sing me songs sung blue.

A few years later, as an eager Top 40 radio rookie, I learned that several of my favorite Monkees hits were Diamond compositions. Besides “I’m a Believer,” which any decent music trivialist knows about, he wrote “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You” and “Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)” – both sung by Davy Jones. I felt like Cyrano’s Roxane, discovering at last the true source of the words which had touched me so deeply. But Davy is still No. 1 in my heart, even if he didn’t write any of his own songs. After all, not all of Neil’s hits were original compositions: “Mr. Bojangles,” “He Ain’t Heavy (He’s My Brother)” and the one guaranteed to make me weep, Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Until It’s Time For You to Go.”

This love of mine had no beginning, it has no end.

I was an oak, now I’m a willow, now I can bend.

And though I’ll never in my life see you again,

Still I’ll stay until it’s time for you to go.

The first time I heard that song, I was too young to fully grasp the poignancy but it made me cry anyway. More than 40 years later, having experienced a good share of love and loss, it brings me to tears every time. As it did on this recent hot August night. Cruising along a deserted highway with the windows down, singing and sobbing along with Neil, it was the perfect distraction from the miserable mugginess brought by Gil and Henriette.

The drive-thru cashier must have wondered about my puffy eyes and sniffles as he handed me my Diet Coke, but I didn’t care. “Song Sung Blue” was starting as I pulled away from the window.

Funny thing, but you can sing it with a cry in your voice,

And before you know it, y’start to feelin’ good.

You simply got no choice.

I love Neil Diamond.

* 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

Granddaughter No. 1 just turned 13. Yikes.

Besides the knee-jerk “I’m not old enough to have a teenage grandchild!” reaction, Lilly’s milestone birthday has caused me a great deal of consternation over finding the perfect gift. OK, that’s an exaggeration. I’m not really distressed; I’m not even stressed. I’m just stumped.

What do you get a 13-year-old for her birthday these days? It doesn’t even have to be perfect. I’d settle for anything that doesn’t make her say, “Oh, Grandma’s SO uncool.” Then again, she probably wouldn’t say that in any case, because the word “uncool” is . . . uh . . . uncool.

Turning 13, on the other hand, is very cool, and I wanted to send Lilly an appropriate gift for her special occasion. But teenhood and coolness are not what they used to be. When I turned 13, back in the olden days, I wanted a pastel blue Princess phone for my bedroom. In fact, I would have been happy with any phone, just to have my own extension (I did get a Princess, two years later). Lilly already has a smartphone and uses it proficiently.

At 13, I’d tasted puppy love and had my first kiss, but was a year or so away from wearing makeup and perfume. Going steady meant hanging out together at recess and passing “1-4-3” notes in class. We never saw each other outside of school, except for Tuesday nights at Kahului Library. On the pretext of researching school projects, we’d ask our parents to drop us off for a couple of hours, which they gladly did, of course. The more daring couples would sneak over to Dairy Queen for french fries or a curly-tipped cone, but most of us were happy just to sit at the library tables and talk.

I don’t know whether Lilly’s kissed a boy yet, but I can see that she knows a lot more about makeup and fashion than I did at her age. She wears just a hint of lipstick and eyeliner, and at 5 feet 5 inches tall, looks older than she is. Thankfully, she’s still a sweet and relatively innocent kid, more tween than teen. I know that from having spent a lot of time with her during her recent visit to Maui. And from checking her Facebook page.

Kids are maturing faster these days, at least in the physical sense. Emotionally and intellectually, I’m not so sure. Lilly’s Facebook posts remind me of the notes we girls exchanged in junior high. She and her friends giggle and chat over the same stuff we did: boys, school, boys, clothes, boys. They express the same 13-year-old dreams and desires, anxieties and apprehensions. What a relief to find that even though they’re technologically advanced, today’s kids are still just kids.

I do feel a little sorry for them. Their world is so much more complicated than ours was. Peer pressure was hard enough when generated by a handful of classmates. But when you’ve got hundreds of “friends” you’ve never even met, weighing in on your latest photo upload, the potential for drama and angst is greatly intensified.

And thanks to social media, the handwritten love note has become obsolete. Lilly may never feel the thrill of pulling out a wrinkled scrap of paper from her wallet and rereading, for the umpteenth time, a young boy’s declaration of love. “I think you’re cute” is so much more charming in a youthful scrawl than typed on a screen. And with GPS on her smartphone, she’ll never be able to sneak away from the library without her dad finding out.

So what did I get Lilly for her 13th birthday? After weeks of consideration and debate, I sent her a card with money and a grandmotherly, handwritten note. And I texted her a couple of times. Just so she’d think Grandma’s cool.

* 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

Being under the weather for a few days recently, I succumbed to the spell of nostalgia TV. Warmed by memories of hanabata days (quite literally) and a bowl of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup with a scoop of leftover rice thrown in, I watched the same old reruns that mesmerized me as a grade-schooler, home with a bad cold. Even then, they were reruns, a glimpse into the American Dream of my parents’ generation.

From “Mr. Ed” to “McHale’s Navy,” I enjoyed reuniting with my black-and-white childhood heroes and friends. “I (still) Love Lucy” and believe that “Father Knows Best.” Although I think he’d be bewildered by the slick and sassy commercials of today. Gone are the serious spokesmen touting products “recommended by four out of five doctors.” Now insurance is sold by worldly, wisecracking geckos and camels celebrating Wednesdays at the office (“HUMP Daaay!”).

Of course, we had animal spokesmodels back in the ’60s, but they were cute little cartoon characters who sang jingles like “Brusha, brusha, brusha” and “From the land of sky blue waters . . .” Yes, Bucky Beaver for Ipana toothpaste and the Hamm’s Bear for Hamm’s beer. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer my spokesanimals to be two-dimensional. I do like the Hump Day camel, but I have to draw the line at pigs flirting with women. Brings up too many memories of real-life bad dates.

One of the classic templates for commercials, then and now, is to instill fear or doubt, then relieve the anxiety by offering your product as the solution. I remember taking mental notes of all the issues I would have to deal with when I grew up. Like house-itosis and iron-poor tired blood and coffee so lousy your husband never wanted a second cup. And when the accumulation of domestic crises threatened your sanity, all you had to do was throw a handful of scented beads into the bath and utter the magic words, “Calgon, take me away!”

Or you could “Take Sominex tonight and sleep . . . safe and restful sleep, sleep, sleep.”

I’ve never taken Sominex, but I always liked their jingle. I used to get it mixed up with the Hadabug song: “Sleep tight, mmmm . . . no mosquitoes, with Johnson’s Hadabug . . . Hadabug!”

From cars (“See the USA in your Chevrolet . . .”) to corn chips (“Munch, munch, munch a bunch of Fritos . . .”), Pepsodent (“You’ll wonder where the yellow went . . .”) to Pepsi-Cola (“‘Cause you’ve got a lot to live, and Pepsi’s got a lot to give”), I’m an old jingle junkie; the older, the better. Remember the Halo shampoo song? “Halo, everybody, Halo!” They just don’t write ’em like that anymore.

I’m all for truth in advertising, but I miss the days when commercials were simply meant to get your attention and place a name in your head for future reference. I don’t need to hear the company history or justification for the product’s existence. And I sure don’t want a litany of possible side effects. Just sing me a silly song. Hey, there’s an idea. If the drug companies would set those lists to music, we’d be more likely to remember their commercials.

Like the Big Mac song. I haven’t had a Big Mac in many years, but I can sing you the ingredients: “two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun.” I’m sure someone could come up with a catchy tune for “anxiety, indigestion, skin eruptions and insomnia.”

Really, it’s not the cartoon characters and jingles I miss, but the sweeter, simpler time they represent. When the stuff being “shot from guns” was Quaker Oats, and “Snap, Crackle, Pop (made) the world go ’round.” When I was more concerned about how food tasted than whether I could afford it.

I always get sentimental when I’m under the weather. I guess it’s human nature to crave the comforts of childhood when our grown-up selves are compromised. That’s why Campbell’s soups (“Mm-mm good!”) and Kellogg’s cereals are still around. “K-E-double L, Oh-double good, Kellogg’s best to you!”

I’m feeling better now, and all this reminiscing has inspired a new project: preserving the art form of jingle writing. Hmm. . . . what rhymes with insomnia?

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