Sharing Mana‘o

I love this gig. One of the perks of being a columnist for The Maui News is the wide range of feedback from readers. When I began Sharing Mana’o two and a half years ago, I thought of this column as a weekly exercise in one-way communication, like delivering a speech rather than participating in a conversation. But you readers set me straight from the start.

My first column, about my personal history with our hometown newspaper, spurred responses from folks I hadn’t seen in years. It hadn’t occurred to me that The Maui News would be read by anyone beyond our shores. I was aware of the online edition, of course, but being the page-turning dinosaur I am (I still subscribe to daily delivery), I was surprised to hear from displaced Mauians and lifelong Mainlanders.

A couple of months later, I was even more amazed when I wrote about Ed Asner and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) and, less than 24 hours after publication, I received emails from AFTRA officials on both coasts. That cemented my respect for the power of the Internet.

Yet, as much as I enjoy the virtual contact, it doesn’t diminish the impact of good, old-fashioned, face-to-face communication. After I wrote about substituting chocolate for cigarettes in my struggle to quit smoking, people walked up to me on the street and handed me giant candy bars and Hershey’s Kisses. You can’t email chocolate. Or hugs. This year’s Valentine’s Day column about giving hugs with a sincere “I love you” brought me a whole lotta sugar.

I’ve emerged from the store to find handwritten notes on my windshield. I’ve had dozens of quick conversations with strangers in the car next to me at the traffic light, and countless coffee counter encounters. I’ve been privileged to hear and read precious recollections of old-time Maui from all sorts of folks. And the worldwide exposure via the online issues have brought me back in touch with childhood friends and old flames, even an ex-husband in Thailand.

I’ve been honored to receive many poignant, powerful, deeply personal stories from readers, following columns about my dear departed father and my late husband. The exploits of my very much alive mother have also generated a lot of response, most of it being, “I can’t believe your mom did THAT!”

Sometimes I hear from the subjects of my columns, like longtime Baldwin High School Band Director Lance Jo, or my grade school principal, Bill Tavares. Mr. Tavares and I have enjoyed several telephone talk story sessions since my column on Makawao School memories.

Two weeks ago, I mentioned kama’aina songwriter/playwright/entrepreneur Eaton “Bob” Magoon, who wrote the local classic “Mr. Sun Cho Lee.” Not only did Bob Magoon give us “Numbah One Day of Christmas” and many other pidgin songs, he, together with Jack Law, created the legendary Hula’s Bar and Lei Stand in Waikiki.

I was fortunate to live on Oahu during the heyday of Hula’s and the surrounding Kuhio District. My best friend and I were in our 20s, focused on our media careers and uninterested in romance. Actually, I was happily married and she was happily single. What better, safer place to spend our girls’ nights out than in Hawaii’s biggest and best gay nightclub? We’d dance all night with gorgeous men who never leered or tossed out lame pickup lines. Not to us, anyway.

I spoke with Jack Law once while covering a news story, but I never got to meet Bob Magoon, much as I wanted to. In researching my recent column, I learned that he’s now living in Northern California, and that Jack threw a 90th birthday party for him last year, at Hula’s, of course, which is now at the Kapahulu end of Waikiki.

So you can imagine my surprise at hearing a voice mail message that began with “Hello, Kathy. This is Bobby Magoon.” I returned the call immediately, and he answered with a strong but somewhat weary voice. He graciously thanked me for the mention and I babbled my gratitude for his gifts of song and a safe place to dance. Within minutes, we were chatting like old friends. He told me about the plans to put his Broadway play “13 Daughters” on film and I told him about my alter ego Tita. By the time he sang “Fish and Poi” to me, his baritone was full of life and laughter. We talked – and sang – for a delightful half-hour. He promised to mail me a DVD of “13 Daughters” and I’m sending him “Tita’s Night Befo’ Christmas.” We plan to meet on his next visit home.

I love this gig.

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