Sharing Mana‘o

Quick, what’s the first word or phrase that comes to mind when you hear the name Willie K? Awesome? Multitalented? Guitar hero? “O Holy Night”? In a recent informal poll, those were the answers I heard most often. Well, those and a particular one-word answer that we can’t print in this newspaper. Willie himself has used that word to describe himself; gleefully, I might add.

Not one person said “comedy impresario.” That may change after next month, when Willie presents “A Pair of Queens and a Pair of Jacks” at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s McCoy Studio Theater. It’s Willie’s first time producing a stand-up comedy showcase, and if all goes well, it won’t be the last.

I have the honor of being, along with KPOA’s Morning Goddess, Alaka’i Paleka, one of the Queens. According to the poster, I’m the Queen of Clubs. I think Willie bestowed me with that title because I love to dance the night away. Or maybe he’s counting on my alter ego Tita to double as bouncer. Either way, I just might throw a little rubbah slippah tap dance into my set.

Alaka’i, appropriately, is the Queen of Hearts. Everyone loves her, and with good reason. Her sense of humor is as sharp as her heart is soft. We haven’t worked together in a long time, so I’m eagerly anticipating this reunion. I think we may have shortchanged her in the billing, though. I’m pretty sure goddess supersedes queen.

Jack of Diamonds Francis Taua is a real gem in local theater. We’ve done a couple of shows together for Maui Academy of Performing Arts (MAPA) and I’ve enjoyed his wit, both onstage and backstage. Here, too, we may have erred in the billing. For as anyone who saw him in the Maui OnStage production of “La Cage Aux Folles” or MAPA’s “Lesser Ahi” and “Fresher Ahi” can attest, Francis is a pretty mean queen. In the Ahi plays, he played not just one, but three characters in drag. He also, with Derek Nakagawa, co-authored the delightful Ahi trilogy (Part 3 coming next year!).

Come to think of it, I also had a couple of gender-reversed roles in “Fresher Ahi” – the scrappy mixed martial arts wannabe Roland “Bang Bang” Macadangdang and a fabulously flamboyant drag queen named Jody. Confused? Try being a woman playing a man playing a woman.

Honolulu funnyman Rodney Villanueva rounds out our hand as the Jack of Spades. As Willie says, he’ll bury you in your seat. He and I have never shared a stage before, but I have seen him perform and, yes, he’s hilarious.

As producer, Willie isn’t planning to do a set himself, but I know he’ll get plenty of laughs as he introduces each of us. The man is a natural humorist. If he had never picked up an ukulele or guitar and had never found the song in his voice (unthinkable, I know), he would still be one of Hawaii’s top entertainers, as Willie K, comedian.

Ten years ago, when I did my first “Tita Out” show at the MACC, Willie did me the honor of appearing as my musical guest. In between singing mellow Hawaiian classics, he riffed on the folks you’d find at a good old-fashioned backyard beer bust, deftly weaving dead-on characterizations into chicken-skin musical moments. He told me then that he’d always loved comedy, and wanted to do more of it someday.

A few months after my husband passed away in 2007, I began the therapeutic process of writing a comedy show on the subject of death. Willie was one of several Maui entertainers who joined me in “Kathy Collins’ Death Comedy Jam.” I told each of them that they could do anything they wanted, as long as it had to do with death and it was funny. Steve Grimes wrote and performed a delightful ditty called “Dying to Know,” Eric Gilliom cracked us up with a skit about an angry son at his unloving father’s graveside, Dr. Nat danced with me as the Grim Reaper in a routine we called “Death Visits the Strip Club.” Willie took his ukulele on stage but never strummed a note. Instead, he mesmerized us with a 15-minute monologue on how we react to the deaths of loved ones. I will never forget his descriptions of his father’s and his best friend’s funerals, filled with honesty, poignancy, and pee-in-your-pants punch lines. He ended his set with one verse of “Amazing Grace,” a cappella. He was, indeed, amazing.

I hope we can deal you in for “A Pair of Queens and a Pair of Jacks” on Thursday, Aug. 28. I’d love to see a full house to our two pair.

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

Sharing Mana‘o

Is there a certain name that keeps popping up in your life? Not a specific person’s name; I mean a name like Tom, Dick or Harry. When I Googled the subject, I found only articles about recurring numbers; nothing on names. But a couple of my friends say they, like me, have wondered why a particular name seems to persist throughout their social circles and significant relationships. For me, it’s Jim. Of course, everyone my age grew up with a bunch of Jims, Johns, Marys, Michaels and, yes, Kathys. But not many can say, “This is my husband, James, my ex-husband Jim, and my sons, Jimmy and James.” And those are just the ones in my immediate family.

A survey of my smartphone contact list turned up 23 Mikes, almost twice the number of Jims. However, most of them are Facebook friends or casual acquaintances, whereas nearly all of the 13 Jims in my phone are men I could call in a pinch. I’ve never been seriously involved with a Mike, unless you count my lifelong love affair with the microphone.

The first Jim to sweep me off my feet was Jim Collins, who had one of the best radio voices I’ve ever heard. Smooth but not smarmy, his midday mellow baritone earned him the title of “The Housewives’ Companion” when we both worked at KMVI Radio in the mid-1970s. We married on Christmas Eve 1975 and, a year and a half later, named our son James Masayoshi, after his father and grandfather. Jim and I called our baby Jimmy, but my dad always called him by his initials, JM, because he was so proud of his namesake.

We divorced after four years of marriage and, as far as I know, Jim never got involved with another Kathy. I, on the other hand, met and dated a couple of Jims and a James before marrying my third husband and radio partner, Barry Shannon. Barry was actually his middle name; his first name was James. And his son was named James. Not only that, my best friend at the time was married to a guy named James.

Barry had some significant Jims of his own, including Jim Fuller, founding father of Charley’s Restaurant in Paia. Jim and Barry each found their way to Maui in 1967 and by the time Jim opened Charley’s Juice Stand on Front Street in 1969, they had become good friends. Over 30 years later, when Barry and I put Mana’o Radio on the air, Jim was a founding contributor and continued to support the station by making Charley’s available to us for numerous fundraising concerts, including our annual Birthday Bash.

It was through Jim Fuller that Jim Sanders became a Mana’o listener and supporter. When we first met, Jim Sanders said, “I like what you’re doing. I want to help.” He approached me with the same sentiment after Barry’s death in 2007, offering moral support. We weren’t what I’d call close friends, but I considered him a good friend. He called me “Buddy,” which always amused me.

Mana’o was just one of many nonprofit organizations to receive unsolicited, unconditional support from Jim Sanders. A lover of music and the arts, and of his adopted home, he gleefully spent his time and money on a variety of local causes, sponsoring golf tournaments, art exhibits, concerts and more, much more. In 2009, Jim received the Mayor’s Non-Profit Angel Award in recognition of his generosity and community spirit. In nominating him, Darby Gill of A Keiki’s Dream noted that Jim and his company, Jim Sanders Realty, had helped raise over $90,000 for the Maui children’s charity.

Two weeks ago, on July 9, the angel Jim Sanders shed his earthbound bag of skin and flew to the next realm, where he is likely drumming up a poker game or getting tickets for his pals to the next big show in Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven. He’d been ill for some time; in fact, it seemed that every time I saw him, he was dealing with or recovering from one or another medical issue. Still, the news of his passing shocked and saddened me.

Jim was the proverbial cat with nine lives; a tough, scrappy tom with a delightful sense of humor and a genuine aloha spirit. He kept beating the odds through sheer love of life. When I called him recently with a party invitation, he was his usual cheery self, downplaying his health problems and promising, “I’ll see ya soon, Buddy.”

It’s the only time he’s broken a promise to me. I forgive you, Jim, ol’ buddy, but I sure am going to miss you.

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

Sharing Mana‘o

Today is my mom’s 89th birthday, and I don’t know what to give her.

Six years ago, after seeing the movie “The Bucket List,” my mother composed a list of her own and began a birthday tradition of checking off an item each year in celebration of her special day. She has soared over the waters off West Maui in a parasail, rumbled down the highway on a Harley-Davidson, and surfed a few waves in an outrigger canoe. Ziplining and white-water rafting didn’t make her list, only because she’s already been there, done that, several times.

I’ve joined her on all of her bucket-list adventures. In fact, as her loyal and loving only child, I’ve been her sidekick all my life. The tandem parasail gave me flashbacks to my first roller-coaster ride, when I was 7 or 8, and Mom coaxed me onto the Mad Mouse at the County Fair. I remember shrieking in terror as we whipped around corners and plunged into dips, with Mom cheerfully reassuring me, “Stop crying; this is fun!”

For her 83rd birthday, we had dainty anklets tattooed above our right feet. At the time, I joked that she should add another ring each year, so that her leg would be fully covered by the time she reached 100. She said one was enough, but four years later, we had the names of our immediate family members inked in Japanese characters on our calves. I won’t be surprised if she decides to commemorate her 90th birthday with a third tattoo. No piercings, though; we have to draw the line somewhere.

I remember Mom as being a practical, sensible young mother with a playful streak. She loved naughty jokes – still does – and taught me my first raunchy riddle when I was 12. No, I can’t repeat it here. She always beat me to the prank on April Fool’s Day and never fell for any of my tricks. One year, she replaced my usual hard-boiled egg with a raw one, filled the sugar bowl with salt and gave me colored water instead of orange juice.

Most of the time, though, she was pretty conventional, dispensing typical mom advice about wearing clean underwear and not running with scissors. She never forced me to clean my plate because of the starving kids in China, though. Instead, she followed her father’s dietary philosophy: Eat until you want one more bite, and stop there.

As for minding my manners, both my parents placed a great deal of emphasis on courtesy and compassion. I was around 10 when I received a book called “Manners to Grow On,” a comprehensive guide to table etiquette and social situations. I memorized the entire text, and one night, when my parents and I were having dinner at the Maui Frontier (which became the Landing, the Chart House, and now, Cary & Eddie’s Hideaway), I tried to show off what I had learned. I scolded my dad for using his dinner fork for his salad, criticized the waitress for placing our plates from the wrong side, and generally behaved like an obnoxious know-it-all. Mom took me aside and said, “I don’t care what that book says. The only rule of etiquette you need to know is that good manners is making the other person feel comfortable.”

I’ve never forgotten that. Out of all the advice my mom gave me during my formative years, that’s the one I appreciate the most, to this day. That, and to learn to drink my coffee black.

Good advice and great adventures; I could write volumes about my mom. Her travel escapades include running away from a Siberian police officer and a wild ride with a Russian taxicab driver in St. Petersburg. Then there was the time she got up close and personal with the original Naked Cowboy in Times Square.

So you see my dilemma; what do you give someone who’s already done everything she’s wanted to do? Mom completed her bucket list two years ago and insists she’s perfectly content.

Hmm. Maybe I’ll make her a special birthday breakfast. Hard-boiled eggs and orange juice, Mom?

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

Sharing Mana‘o

Whenever I meet someone new and they ask me what I do for a living, I always hesitate. I wear a lot of hats, and it feels impolite to run through the list when the person asking is just trying to make small talk. Like when someone says, “How are you?” and receives a detailed medical report. I think certain questions should be answered in five words or less. “I’m fine; how are you?” or “I work for the county” or “I’m a Maui News columnist” or “I talk for a living” – all of which are true.

I am blessed to have several occupations, each of which brings me great pleasure. As different as they are, they complement each other, and they all come with added benefits. I’ve enjoyed a long career in radio and television. My day job at Kaunoa Senior Services affords me the opportunity to learn from hundreds of kupuna, while helping to enrich their golden years. On evenings and weekends, I pursue my passion for performing, which brings me into contact with even more people. And then I get to write about the folks I meet and the fun I have, and share my memories with you.

Last weekend was exceptionally satisfying. In between Thursday night storytelling at the Makena resort and hosting Polynesian revues aboard the Pride of America on Sunday, I had two delightful gigs.

Friday evening, I took my mom and my alter ego, Tita, to a surprise 80th birthday party for Yuki Ng. Unbeknownst to the birthday girl, I’d spent some time with her family and close friends the week before to collect anecdotes and facts. By the time we met, I knew much more about her than she could have imagined, and she was genuinely surprised when Tita stood up to tell “da story of Yuki’s life.” It was the story of a loving, lovely lady, and I felt privileged to tell it.

The following night, I emceed the Maui High Class of ’69 reunion. What a great bunch of rowdy revelers! And because I’m a few years younger – and a Baldwin grad – they had me feeling pretty feisty too. I told all my Viagra jokes and made a few “R” rated comments. Well, actually, Tita did. I myself was a little self-conscious because Mayor Alan Arakawa was one of the celebrating classmates.

The biggest surprise – and treasure – of the weekend came from another member of the Class of ’69, Moana Hirata. Her youngest sister, Ilima Murata, was my best friend throughout my grammar school years. Back then, our families called us Lima-chan and Sa-chan (my Japanese name is Sadae), but our classmates knew us as Ruth and Kathy. The folks closest to me still call me Sa-chan, and I’m sure it’s the same with Lima-chan.

Moana handed me a CD from Ruth, labeled “Early Recording of Sa-chan and Lima-chan.” I had forgotten about our escapades with her family’s tape recorder. Apparently, we taped ourselves over her three older sisters’ favorite radio programs, because the CD plays like an audition tape: snippets of talk interspersed with music. As I listened to it the next morning, I was alternately amused, enchanted . . . and mortified.

All my adult life, I’ve remembered my childhood self as a shy, soft-spoken little girl. But there are no sweet or dainty voices on this recording; in fact, we sound even rowdier than the ’69 Sabers. There are several voices on the tape, and I recognized Lima-chan’s immediately. By process of elimination, I concluded that the sassy, bossy microphone hog was me.

Me: Ruth got stuck nose.

Ruth: Yeah, I get runny nose. (giggles) My nose stay running away.

Me: Go catch ’em, then!! (extreme giggles and cackling)

We sang MAD Magazine song parodies, conducted fake interviews and made all sorts of extremely unladylike sounds. I’m pretty sure I’m the one imitating Maxwell Smart, as well as the manic football play-by-play announcer.

The added bonus of this preserved piece of personal history is the soundtrack we so blithely recorded over. Fortunately, we didn’t erase all of it, and so I now have excerpts from the KPOI broadcast day of June 11, 1967. Legendary Poi Boys Mike Hamlin, Dave Donnelly and Tom Moffatt are all there, playing songs like “Silence is Golden” and “Sunshine Superman.” Uncle Tom even reads a commercial for Muntz Stereo’s Kamehameha Day special – stereo tape cartridge units for your car, as low as $29.95!

Thanks, Lima-chan, for the priceless gift. And thanks for helping me start on my career path at the age of 9.

What do I do for a living? In five words or less . . . I do what I love. And love what I do. OK, that’s 10 words, but what else would you expect from a lifelong microphone hog?

* Kathy Collins is a storyteller, actress and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her e-mail address is

Sharing Mana‘o

A couple of recent milestone birthdays have put me into pensive mode. And they’re not even mine. You know you’ve reached the height – or depth – of sentimental foolishness when other people’s birthdays send you into emotional retrograde. Not that I’m depressed, or weepy, even. I’m just feeling a bit wistful, that’s all.

One of my dearest friends turned 50 on Sunday. That morning, I called to leave him a singing voice mail. I was planning to serenade him with the old “Hawaii 5-0” theme: Puh-puh-puh-puh-PAH-pum, now you’re old like me.

. . . But at the last second, I reverted to the classic “Happy Birthday to You” because I wasn’t sure how much of his sense of humor survived his first half-century. Having hit that mark myself a few years ago, I thought it best to err on the side of caution. I think he appreciated it.

Other folks have not been so fortunate. I remember, some years ago, seeing several cars on Maui roadways, bearing bumper stickers that read “Peter Baldwin is 50!” Or was it 40? Either way, I thought it was pretty funny at the time.

Just like the three or four instances when I merrily participated in preparing 50th birthday “care packages” for co-workers. Once, we decorated our boss’s office with black balloons and draped black bunting on his desk. On his chair, we placed one of those donut cushions and filled the middle with Polident tablets, a box of Grecian Formula, a bottle of Geritol, and various brochures for nursing homes and Arizona retirement communities. Viagra hadn’t been invented yet, or we would have included a giant jar of little blue pills – fake, of course – like another bunch of pranksters recently did for a mutual friend.

Now that I’m on the other side of 50, those gag gifts don’t tickle me the way they used to. Thankfully, my friends are sensitive and compassionate, and I was spared the ritual ridicule on my Big 5-0. Instead, I received cards and calls with the refrain “50 is the new 30!” It’s not, but that mantra helped me through my first three 50th birthdays.

Next month, I’ll be attending the 13th annual 50th birthday party for a couple of friends. I like their approach. It seems to be working, too. Neither of them looks or acts like they’re ready for retirement. I think holding at 50 is better than trying to recapture 30. Who wants to be 30 again, anyway? It’s an awkward age; young enough to want to keep doing the things you’re old enough to know you shouldn’t. But still too young to command the respect of us grumpy old 50-somethings.

Last Monday, my son celebrated his 37th birthday. Well, maybe “celebrated” is not quite the right term. There’s a six-hour time difference between us, so I sent him a text message at 5 a.m. his time, figuring he’d awaken and see my greeting first thing in the morning. To my surprise, he was already up, and we texted back and forth for the next half-hour. He’d had a sleepless night, and he was lamenting the fact that his body is now old enough to feel the adverse effects of insomnia.

We exchanged thoughts and pithy comments on parenthood and aging. I offered a sympathetic ear and some motherly love. Then I told him, “How do you think I feel? My kid is 37!” Now, even when I tell people he was a miracle baby – I had him when I was 8 – that still makes me a middle-ager.

Yes, he said, he got a little taste of that when his eldest daughter turned 13. “I guess time does fly when you’re having fun.”

“Take it from me,” I texted back, “time flies whether you’re having fun or not.”

He went back to bed and I settled into mine, with the words of Tevye and Golde, from “Fiddler on the Roof,” echoing in my head.

Is this the little girl I carried?

Is this the little boy at play?

I don’t remember growing older;

When did they?

That night, I cuddled my little boy in my arms and sang him to sleep. It was the same dream I’ve had every few years. Jimmy is a toddler again, his head snuggled against my shoulder, and his hair smells like sweet baby sweat. I kiss his forehead, his chubby cheeks, each of his plump little fingers with dimples where the knuckles should be. Then I wrap him in a bear hug, desperately clinging to the moment as I feel myself starting to wake up.

I think I’ll send him some black balloons and Geritol to cheer him up. He’s still young enough to take a joke.

* Kathy Collins is a storyteller, actress and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her e-mail address is