author

The Forever Wisdom of Dr. Wayne Dyer

 

Celebrate the late iconic thinker Wayne Dyer’s wisdom, teachings and unique ability to translate abstract ideas into down-to-earth lessons that can be applied to everyday life. This inspirational memorial tribute includes memorable stories, both funny and soulful.

 

Ride the Tiger

 

Search the bipolar brain to find out where the biological and chemical breakdowns occur and how we may be able to pre-empt disorders and fix or rewire our brains. Learn if new treatments can lead to advances in other areas of mental illness as well.

 

FINDING YOUR ROOTS
Maps of Stars

FINDING YOUR ROOTS: Maps of Stars, Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow

 

Join Harvard scholar Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., as he delves into the genealogy of 27 guests. Each story illuminates the vast patchwork of ethnicity, race and experience that makes up the fabric of America.

 

Maps of Stars
Learn how Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow, who last shared the screen together in 1969, also share a history of tragic deaths in their families that played major roles in shaping future generations.

 

FINDING YOUR ROOTS
The Long Way Home

FINDING YOUR ROOTS: The Long Way Home, author Azar Nafisi

 

Join Harvard scholar Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., as he delves into the genealogy of 27 guests. Each story illuminates the vast patchwork of ethnicity, race and experience that makes up the fabric of America.

 

The Long Way Home
Discover how actress Julianna Marguiles, author Azar Nafisi and Chef Lidia Bastianich are bound together by their ancestors’ singular and deeply human desire to preserve their most cherished traditions.

 

This program will encore Tues., March 1, 8:00 pm

 

WELL READ
Erica Jong: Fear of Dying

WELL READ - Erica Jong: Fear of Dying

 

Air date: Thurs., Dec. 3, 11:00 pm

 

This series features lively, engaging conversations about ideas in literature. Host Terry Tazioli introduces the latest books – both fiction and non-fiction – and interviews noted authors about the themes in their latest works.

 

Erica Jong: Fear of Dying
Erica Jong, award-winning poet, novelist, non-fiction writer, discusses her latest work, Fear of Dying.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Joy Abbott

 

Original air date: Tues., Aug. 13, 2013

 

Leslie Wilcox talks with Joy Abbott, singer and widow of renowned stage producer George Abbott. Born and raised in Wahiawa, Oahu, Joy graduated from Punahou School. She attended Temple University in Philadelphia to study education, before pursuing a career in entertainment. In recent years, Abbott has written and directed several theater benefit galas, and is co-authoring a biography on George Abbott.

 

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Transcript

 

And in all those twenty-five years, I was working, working, trying to make my shops a success, my fashion show productions, they were musical and in demand. And so, that’s when George proposed after twenty-five years, and he said, you know, It’s time. [CHUCKLE]

 

From World War II era Wahiawa to the bright lights and big personalities of Broadway, Joy Abbott has lived a glamorous life far from her roots in Hawaii. But she’s remained true to the values she grew up with, and close to family and friends back home. Her dramatic journey is next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program
produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. In this edition of Long Story Short, the Shirley Temple of Hawaii; that’s what people called the former Joy Valderrama when she was a talented kid growing up in Wahiawa in the 1930s. Little did she suspect that one day, she’d be friends with some of Broadway’s biggest stars, and married to an iconic Broadway producer, writer, and director who created scores of American stage classics, a vital man who lived to the age of one hundred seven. Joy Abbott’s parents had a lasting influence on her life. They armed her with three important gifts: an excellent education, training to develop her talents, and values to guide her.

 

My father said that when I was born, I didn’t cry, I smiled; so he called me Joy. [CHUCKLE] True story. Wahiawa, you know, it was just a wonderful life; food wise, for instance, organic, healthy food. My mother would actually kill the chicken herself, and she would grow vegetables and everything. So, food wise, it made a healthy childhood. A very happy childhood too, because we were always laughing.

 

What did your parents do for a living?

 

My father was a barber.

 

Where in Wahiawa?

 

In Schofield Barracks, actually. He went to University of the Philippines, and he studied accounting. He became an accountant, but he wanted to see the, quote, unquote, new world, so he came to Hawaii. My mother was a schoolteacher, but she was a traveling schoolteacher. I remember telling about her riding sidesaddle through all the barrios to teach teachers. And so, when they came here, well, she was a housewife, and my father opened one barber shop, then another, and then another. And he would be the ones to cut the general’s hair, the major, all the officers. And my uncles joined, and they managed the other barber shops.

 

And he got an audience with some of the top decision makers at Schofield.

 

Oh, my gosh; yes. He went to the general’s house to cut their hair, or to the major’s and captain’s, so he learned a lot of things from that way of living.

 

And your siblings?

 

I have three. I have Ruth, who went to Julliard; she’s the older, went to Punahou, Class of ’44. And Grace, she’s in real estate in California now. And May Ann is a tennis coach, and she had the winning Mililani team. She was married to Keola Beamer.

 

Not the Keola Beamer —

 

No; Uncle Keola.

 

Uncle Keola.

 

Uncle Keola.

 

So, Winona Beamer’s brother?

 

Yes.

 

And Keola Beamer, the composer’s and slack key artist’s uncle.

 

Exactly; that’s Nona’s son. Yeah.

 

So, you lived in Wahiawa, which in those days was much farther away from town that it is now, because of the lack of freeways. And you went to Punahou School, which is all the way in town.

 

Yes.

 

How’d you manage that? How’d you get there and back?

 

By bus. I remember getting up very early in the morning, and my father would wake me up and he’d take my hand and … put his whiskers. He says, Time to get up now. [CHUCKLE]

 

That would get you up; right? [CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE] And then he’d take us to the bus, my sister and I would ride the bus into town.

 

When you left the post school, left home in Wahiawa every day to go to Punahou, at the time, I imagine most of the students at Punahou were not only White, but they were wealthy and they were from the town area.

 

Absolutely; yes.

 

So, you were the country non-White.

 

Yes; we were ten percent, in those days, called Orientals, today Asians. And it was just a handful of Asians. But I never felt that, ‘cause my parents said, You know, you’re gonna make yourself in life what you want to be, as long as you work hard, achieve.

 

It’s up to you.

 

Yes; yes. We’re giving you the tools, but it’s up to you.

 

When your dad was a barber, and you know, he had at least an acquaintance or business relationship with generals at Schofield Barracks. And he was concerned about you getting ahead, wasn’t he?

 

Absolutely. Yes; my parents were all for achieving, accomplishments, and they thought that versatility would open doors. So, my father taught me tennis.

 

How did he know tennis?

 

Well, he played in the Philippines, and he coached tennis, as well as boxing and baseball. So, it was a sports family. And my mother always loved singing, dancing, and the arts. And neither could carry a tune. My father would sing Happy Birthday in five different keys to us. # And my mother loved to dance, but she just didn’t have it, so she gave us all the lessons.

 

So, you were in Wahiawa; where did you go to lessons?

 

Oh, in Schofield Barracks. Because we had this wonderful Black fellow who was a tap dance teacher, and I learned all these wonderful steps and riffs, and everything when I was just six years old. There was uh, a revue called the Jackie Suiter’s Revue [PHONETIC]. This is way, way, way before your time. And it was at King Theater, and they would have me, because they dubbed me as the Shirley Temple of Hawaii. [CHUCKLE]

 

Oh, is that right?

 

Yeah. [CHUCKLE] So, I sang these songs as part of this revue. And that was my early debut into showbiz.

 

And at the same time, your dad was making an athlete of you?

 

Oh, yes; yes. So, we’d get up early in the morning on weekends, because naturally, school, we’d go. And he would teach me and drill me, and drill me with basic strokes. And then, I’d play with my uncles afterwards to hit with them. But it opened doors, ‘cause I won the Hawaiian Junior Championship before I left for the mainland.

 

Were you competitive?

 

Oh, absolutely competitive. I think it was instinctive. When I was in a tournament, it was, Kill! No prisoners! [CHUCKLE]

 

And in every sport you played, you had to win?

 

Oh, absolutely. It was just the thing to do. That was the goal; win, win. But I was a good loser. Because my father said, You must learn to lose as a sports person, and be a sport when you lose, and you can learn from your losses, because you know what you did wrong, and then you can improve on that. For instance, in tennis. Yeah, I — I played field hockey, I was a gymnast, and I was on the swimming team at Punahou.

 

Do you think tennis opened doors for you?

 

Very much so. When I went to the mainland, I had won the Hawaiian Junior Championship. My brother-in-law, the one that was going to the Curtis, Felix, would take me out to the public parks and play. And there was this one fellow who was playing with his daughter, and grooming her for a tournament, and he was watching me. He said, Would you like to play in the National Junior Grass Court Tournament at Philadelphia Cricket Club? I said, Fine. He said, Well, we’ve been watching you play. Well, that opened doors.

 

And you didn’t think of saying, Oh, not me, you don’t understand.

 

I said, I’m from Hawaii. And he said, Well, did you win things? I said, Well, I had the Hawaiian Junior title before. He said, That’s enough. And that got me into the eighteen and under national, so I played with the likes of Maureen Connolly. I was only sixteen when I came to the mainland.

 

You graduated young from Punahou.

 

From Punahou; yes. And came right to Philadelphia, where my sister and brother-in-law lived.

 

To attend Temple University.

 

To attend Temple.

 

When you were at Temple, you were playing tennis. Didn’t you have an incredible tennis record at Temple University?

 

Yes; I’m in the Sports Hall of Fame for tennis, being undefeated the four years. Singles.

 

Did you think sports might be a possible career for you?

 

No; I was never strong enough, and I knew my limitations. ‘Cause when I played tournaments on the mainland, I’d get to quarter finals, semi finals, and things. But I’ve got a lot of trophies.

 

And at that point, what did you want to do with your life?

 

Actually, I thought I would be a teacher. I was in health and physical education, and I thought I would come back and teach here. But then, that changed my life when I decided to help my parents to put my other siblings through school. So, I went to this place called the Hawaiian Cottage, and I said, I can sing and dance if you need someone here. And so, they hired me. And so, I got this job at the Hawaiian Cottage, and I had my own trio after a while. And then, I was put on the main stage and learned Haole songs. [CHUCKLE] You know, the pop standards and Broadway. So, I did double duty. I did my Hawaiian show, and then I did the other. So, that was an influence.

 

So, you were essentially a businesswoman, and an entertainer at a young age.

 

Yes.

 

Making enough money to help put your siblings through college.

 

Yes; m-hm.

 

You know, your father, who had to switch jobs, he moved to a new country and found he needed to change occupations. He showed a lot of resilience and versatility, and I guess a lot of hope too.

 

Yes. And all that hope was put into us, the daughters. Because what they couldn’t do, they thought they’d give us the opportunity to do. And it came to fruition; yes.

 

It sounds like you always were trying to get better at what you did.

 

Yes; that’s because of my parents. You achieve and you try to get better. And they taught me not to envy or be jealous. And that helped later on when I met George Abbott, ‘cause we had the same principles. And my mother and father said, Don’t envy someone, because if you accomplish and achieve the goals that you set out for and you’re successful, then you need not envy or be jealous of anyone. You can admire, and you can learn, but you know, that was a good lesson.

 

Joy Abbott stayed in Philadelphia after college, performing fulltime to help pay her sisters’ tuitions. And one of her sisters, perhaps unintentionally, paid her back with an introduction to the man who would be the love of her life, the legendary Broadway producer, director and playwright, George Abbott. He was the creative genius behind classic musicals such as The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees, and winner of multiple Tony Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, and later the Kennedy Center Lifetime Achievement Award.

 

He invited me to dinner. I was invited at seven o’clock. So, I came, and I rang the bell. And whoo, he opened the door himself, and I saw this tall man with silver hair, and these steel blue eyes. I’m like, Whoo. I saw him, and I said, Wow! He was six-three, tall, handsome like Gary Cooper, Randolph Scott handsome combination, and his steel blue eyes, and this beautiful smile. And I said, I’m Joy Valderrama. And he said, Good, you’re on time. That was it. ‘Cause he was a stickler for time. And so, from then on, we just hit off, and we dated for twenty-five years before we got married.

 

You didn’t really want to rush things.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

How old was he when you met; in his seventies?

 

Seventy-two.

 

And how old were you?

 

I was twenty-nine.

 

Did that not make you a little leery? Like, why would I want to date somebody so much older than me?

 

No; ‘cause I didn’t think of dating at the time. I liked him right from the start, because he was handsome, and kind. And so, he would ask me on my day off to come up and so, we dated for twenty-five years.

 

I hope I’m not overstepping or on territory that makes you uncomfortable. But I read George’s bio in various places. And, you know, it talks about how for ten years he had a relationship with Maureen Stapleton.

 

Yes. It was a friendship. It was nothing untoward. And in her biography, if you read one of the paragraphs, it says, And then he met Joy Valderrama and married her, and lived happily ever after, like an old MGM movie.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

That’s in her biography.

 

Does it bother you that in his bios that you read all over the place, there’s so much attention given to his relationship with this, you know, stunning movie actress?

 

Oh, not at all. Oh, my gosh. I knew he liked me, and I liked him, but I didn’t know how much he loved me until later.

 

So, you were okay with him dating other people?

 

Oh, gosh; yes. Because he would be very frank with me. He would tell me that there was nothing but … you know, and it was part of their publicity for shows.

 

Joy Abbott recalls that in those days, there were no parts on Broadway for Asians, and no nontraditional casting as we have today. So, she continued her performing career at the Hawaiian Cottage until George Abbott encouraged her to develop a new talent, as an entrepreneur.

 

He said, It’s time you stopped singing and dancing, and open your own business, and I’ll back you. So, he backed me in a dress shop. Then I opened another one; then I opened another one. You can’t just pull them in with a hook, so you have to have something to attract them. So, I started musical fashion shows, and they became so popular, I was doing two hundred a year. And I had all these professional models, gorgeous girls, modeling the clothes from my store. Well, we had some designer clothes, but a lot of ready to wear. And so, it was quite a successful business.

 

So, very consuming life, and very beautiful life.

 

Yeah.

 

Did you think about children and marriage at that point?

 

No.

 

‘Cause in those days, that was the drill; right?

 

Yes. But then, I was going with George; he was seventy-two, and I was twenty-nine when I first met. And in all those twenty-five years, I was working, working, trying to make my shops a success, my fashion show productions, they were musical and in demand. And so, that’s when George proposed after twenty-five years, and he said, It’s time. And you know how he proposed?

 

How?

 

[CHUCKLE] After twenty-five years, we were up in his country home up in the Catskills. Beautiful place up there, so serene. And he says, Joy, I have something to tell you. So, he said, Come sit beside me. And I remember it was a Sunday morning, and the pines; it was so beautiful up there. He says, I have something to tell you. My lawyer tells me I have enough money for two to live on; it’s time we got married. [CHUCKLE] I said, Oh. I said, Oh, I have to call my mother. [CHUCKLE]

 

You said one of the things about you and George was that despite the age difference and your different backgrounds, you had very similar values.

 

Yes.

 

What were those?

 

A lot of the principles, again, of envy and jealousy. I was surprised to learn that. Taking life in moderation; that’s why he lived so long. He had a glass of wine for dinner. That was it; he didn’t drink, he didn’t smoke.

 

Did he exercise, or golf? Dancing?

 

Oh; exercise. Exercise and work; that’s what made him live so long. Work and accomplishments, and achievements.

 

And that’s what you’re all about too; right?

 

Yes. And he had a wonderful sense of humor; just wonderful. It was a wonderful, wonderful marriage.

 

When Joy Valderrama married George Abbott in 1983, she sold her fashion business and moved to his main home in Florida. She took up golf and became immersed in the country club culture there, as well as the theater circuit in New York.

 

I was living in Florida and being part of the country club that George belonged to, Indian Creek Country Club. And it’s a wonderful social place, and for golf. Pretty exclusive, too.

 

You were all right giving up your business and living this life of relative leisure with George.

 

Leisure and social, and Broadway. When I would be going to some of the opening night parties, I said, Oh, there’s so-and-so, oh, there’s Julie Andrews, oh, there’s Carol Burnett. ‘Cause we went to their Carnegie Hall debut thing, and they had a big party afterwards. And we would be dancing, and I’d be stumbling, and everything. And I’m a pretty good dancer, but George was very serious about dancing. And so, later on when we were married, and we were at the country club, and there’s a dance and I’m dancing and I’m stumbling. I said, Oh, Cynthia, what time is our tee time? Oh, are we playing tennis on Wednesday? And I’d be stumbling. So, the next morning [CHUCKLE] George said, You know, Dear, there are three types of women who make lousy ballroom dancers. He said, Professional singers and dancers, athletes … oh, and rich women. And he said, And you are all three. [CHUCKLE]

 

So, you met him when he was seventy-two, and then twenty-five years later you married him.

 

Yeah.

 

So, he’s dancing at an advanced age.

 

Oh, absolutely. He loved to dance all the time. As a matter of fact, Kitty Carlisle received after a dancing date a book on how to dance, because she was such a lousy dancer. [CHUCKLE]

 

So, he was a very vital man.

 

Very vital. He was playing golf at ninety-six or teaching me. He didn’t give it up until a hundred two, and he in the Croquet Hall of Fame.

 

How old was he when he passed away?

 

Hundred seven.

 

And how healthy was he shortly before that? Did he maintain his health?

 

Yes. He had no diabetes, no cancer, no Parkinson’s, nothing debilitating. And it was just that he died of old age, but his mind was so sharp. As a matter of fact, he was dictating a scene from the second act of Pajama Game that was to be a London production two weeks before he died.

 

It sounds like a magical life. Do you have any regrets?

 

Absolutely none. We never argued, except my driving. I drove too slowly for him. [CHUCKLE] Here’s a story. When he was a hundred six, I asked him what he wanted for his birthday. And he said, Oh, I think I would like to have a swimming pool in the back yard, because I’m tired of walking two blocks to Shirley’s house to do my twenty laps. And so, I contracted a swimming pool person. Well, it took so long; took instead of six weeks, six months. So, we came back from the Catskills, and there was this pool that you know, finally, finally, he was able to go in. So, the first day, he dove in, he sank to the bottom because he was all skin and bones. You don’t have flesh, and buoyancy at a hundred six. So, he comes blubbering up, and he says, Joy, get your money back, it doesn’t work. [CHUCKLE] But the reason I tell that story is, I think he wanted me to exercise. And so, he built that pool so that I would, in our house.

 

And do you? Do you use the pool?

 

Oh, yes; yes, I do.

 

But you didn’t settle down to a life of ease and relative seclusion as a widow. You’re on the jazz circuit.

 

Oh, yes. I did concerts perpetuate the name of George Abbott. I have a singing partner named Davis Gaines.

 

He’s known for Phantom of the Opera on Broadway.

 

Yes; yes, he is. And so, we would do a compilation of songs from George’s shows, and then we would do things from Phantom, Showboat, you know, other shows. And it would raise a lot of money too for people. Just not to give concerts, but we would do it for AIDS benefits, benefit for the theater community. And so, I’ve been singing since, and enjoying that life, because I don’t have to make it as a living.

 

What do you like about jazz? Why jazz?

 

Oh; because I sang with the best musicians in Philadelphia. There was Al Governor and the Candoli Brothers, and Richie Kamoku, who was part-Filipino, part-Jewish. [CHUCKLE] And he was a saxophone player from Philadelphia, and he played with Zoot Sims and all these wonderful players. And I would be privy to all that music.

 

What did you learn from them?

 

I learned phrasing, I learned pitch, and also a certain style, where I wouldn’t do vocal acrobatics, I would let the musicians underneath do that. And I would sing the songs straight, but with phrasing.

 

What’s your favorite song, favorite jazz song?

 

I don’t really have a favorite, because there are so many that are so good.

 

There’s none of that you hope you’re gonna be requested to do for that encore?

 

Oh; oh, well, gosh … Our Love Is Here to Stay is one of my favorites, and The Way We Were. Betty and I just did that for a private party, and it brings tears to your — ooh, tears to your eyes. [CHUCKLE]

 

You won a Hoku. And in fact, your co-winner was …

 

Betty Loo Taylor.

 

Is she about the same age?

 

Yes; we were both septuagenarians at the time.

 

Doing jazz.

 

Oh, yes.

 

On a Hoku album.

 

Yes; it was our first album. And how it happened was, I would come home, and Betty would have her trio at the Kahala. And she says, Come, come up and sing with us. So, I would sing. But by the way, Betty Loo and I used to do carnivals at Punahou. And so, we’d been long, long, longtime friends. When I would come back, she would say, Oh, come up and sing, or wherever she would be. And so I said, Betty, why don’t we make an album together? We’ve known each other’s style for so long. So, she said, Okay. So, I flew her up to New York, and in one week, we did this album.

 

Did your competitive nature ever ebb?

 

No.

 

You still are very competitive?

 

Oh, absolutely. [CHUCKLE] I took up golf, as I said, when I was fifty-three. And after the first year and a half, I won the First Flight at our club, and I won it six times after.

 

And you still play golf, and you still are competitive with friends?

 

Oh, yes; yes. Between operations. [CHUCKLE] ‘Cause I’ve had two hip replacements, a knee replacement, a shoulder replacement, and cervical and lumbar. And each time, it improved my game [CHUCKLE] actually. But no more tennis, unfortunately, after my hip replacements.

 

You’ve had a very unusual life, starting in the country of Wahiawa, with immigrant parents who opened doors for you, and you pushed on those doors.

 

Yeah. And now, I’m able to give back, I’m happy to say. Because Templeton University is the recipient of my legacy with the royalties that I’m giving them and my annual contribution, and so they’ve opened the Joy and George Abbott School of Musical Theater.

 

Joy Abbott says she’s living her second life now in her early eighties at the time of this conversation in the summer of 2013. This longtime performer, businesswoman, and patron of the theater arts devotes much of her time to honoring and furthering the legacy of her famous husband. Joy Abbott divides her time between Florida, Philadelphia, and Honolulu. She keeps a condo here, and loves her Punahou School reunions. And she still enjoys Broadway, sitting in a perfect seat in the theater and going backstage. For Long Story Short, and PBS Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

And you’ve remained lifelong friends with your Punahou classmates with whom you were close before.

 

Yes. But when I tell them I’m coming in May, so-and-so, they tell everybody, Oh, Joy is coming, we better put our acts together, ‘cause we’re gonna be busy. Things like that. Now, we had just our sixty-fifth Punahou reunion, Class of ’48, and we’re the closest class at Punahou.

 

Dr. Wayne Dyer:
I Can See Clearly Now

 

In the most personal program of his career, Dr. Wayne Dyer offers an intimate conversation about what his own personal experiences have taught him: There are no accidents, and all the choices we make and actions we take weave a life tapestry uniquely our own. Exploring the five principles that have guided his own choices, Dr. Dyer shows why it is important to have – and act on – a burning desire, why life’s lowest moments can reveal our true purpose, and how the principle of love allows us to see our lives more clearly and reach our greatest awareness.

 

PBS HAWAII PRESENTS
Seeds of Aloha

 

Learn the life story of George Kahumoku Jr., award-winning slack key guitarist, songwriter, performer, teacher, artist, sculptor, author, farmer and entrepreneur. Through his everyday activities, we discover the roots of his extraordinary life, the meanings of aloha and ohana, and how these values have made him the man he is today.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Chris McKinney

 

Original air date: Tues., Aug. 16, 2011

 

Acclaimed Hawaii Author

 

Leslie Wilcox sits down with Chris McKinney, a Kahaluu-raised author who is best known for his novel, The Tattoo. As a teenager with a strict upbringing, Chris was initially content with honoring his mother’s wishes in pursuing a stable, lucrative law career. Instead, Chris discovered writing and now enjoys a successful career – The Tattoo is on student reading lists across the US. In this episode, he also opens up about the internal conflicts he experiences as he raises a daughter of his own.

 

Chris McKinney Audio

 

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Transcript

 

 

Somebody once asked me, how do I know I’m finished with a book. And my answer has always been the same; when I’m so sick of it, I can’t stand looking at it again. So even when I do readings and stuff like that, people will ask me to, go here. And I’ll do it. But there’s this side of me that does it begrudgingly, ‘cause I just don’t want to look at the book again. And it’s been eleven, twelve years since I’ve written The Tattoo. Unless I’m doing a reading, I’ve never cracked open that book.

 

What does it take for a book to grab you, make you stay up at night until the book falls on your face? Interesting characters, a compelling storyline, maybe they connect with your own life. Next, on Long Story Short, we’ll meet the character and the story behind some of the most successful locally penned novels in Hawaii, author Chris McKinney.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

It’s been said that we all have a good book within us, we all have that unique story to tell. But so few of us do it. Writer Chris McKinney took pieces of his childhood, tossed in some severely damaged characters, mixed in with the socioeconomic system of Hawaii, and used his talent to tell stories that resonate with readers.

 

What was your childhood like?

 

My mother was born and raised in Korea. And she got to Hawaii probably when she was about sixteen or seventeen years old. And my father was mostly born and raised here. He spent some time in Guam, but he spent most of his childhood in Hawaii. So they divorced when I was about—I guess I was about one or two years old. I don’t remember anything about the divorce. But there are pictures. There are a few pictures here, and you can see sort of what my mother was trying to raise. There’s a picture of me when I was about two or three years old in a leisure suit. Now, who puts their two-year or three-year-old kid, probably at the time, in a very inexpensive leisure suit, except for a Korean woman? [CHUCKLE] I don’t know. And buying me—I remember owning, maybe at two or three, leather sandals. In Hawaii, who wears leather sandals?

 

So what does that say about your mom?

 

At least at the time, and to a certain extent now, she thinks physical appearance is very important. She values how you present yourself. Your attire, how you’re put together, and all of that kind of stuff. I mean, which is fine. I don’t have a problem with that. But what happened was, was that the man that she ended up marrying after, after her and my father got a divorce, was sort of the polar opposite when it came to the that kind of philosophy. My stepfather grew up in Kaneohe, a Vietnam War vet, a local, local, local guy. His father was a professional boxer. So how she ended up with him, I have no idea. But they ended up together.

 

And did it work?

 

Well, yeah, but there were volcanic moments, certainly. But they’re still together, and there still are rather volcanic moments. And a good example of how the relationship works is a story my mom once told me. They were dating at the time, and my stepdad was really into his cars. Nice car, hotrods, that kinda stuff. And they were out on a date, and she had to pee. And he started messing with her, which he does to this day, by sort of swerving, going over bumps, all of that kind of stuff. And she took it upon herself to pull her pants down and pee right in his car. [CHUCKLE] And I think that story pretty much covers the dynamics of that relationship; that’s sort of what it’s like. So anyway, I went from that sort of leisure suit, leather sandal, condominium, Korean condominium world to Kaneohe, then Kahaluu. And I’m not talking Ahuimanu Kahaluu, I’m talking past Hygienic Store towards Waiahole Kahaluu. And that’s where I spent most of my youth.

 

And what happened to your father and then your stepmother as well?

 

Yeah. So, my father was a mortgage banker here. And when I was about four, I think, he remarried, and they moved to Gaithersburg, Maryland. And they had this beautiful house on a hill, colonial two-story, bla-bla-bla. He’d drive around in his Corvette, and all of that. And I’d visit during summer vacations. So I’d go to Maryland, for the summer, and then eventually, they moved to California, first Orange County for a little while, and then they ended up in a little town called Soma, California, which has about twenty thousand people in it. It’s grape vineyards as far as the eye can see. And so he worked in Fresno, which was about thirty minutes north.

 

And how often did you see him?

 

I’d go there for summers. And there was this—well, one of the things that my mom, as I was growing up, what she saw was that it was sort of this, oh-oh moment. And I don’t think it’s regret, but it’s this, Should I have brought my son to Kahaluu moment. Because I think that, like I said about the suit, the putting yourself—yeah, that was out the window. And she started developing this thing about public school. No public school, it’s a mantra for her, and it scared her. So what she started doing was, she started pushing me to go live in California with my father. And so, she finally succeeded in the fourth grade. Up until then, I was just going for summer vacations. And then so, I finally moved there when I was about ten years old. And I stayed there for about three years. And finally, I had enough.

 

Had enough of what?

 

I mean, it was the same thing every year. I would be there, I would be miserable, and then the school year would go on, and I’d be fine. I had friends up there, everything normal. Normal childhood, all of that kinda stuff. I even played soccer, which was weird, because where I’m from, we didn’t even know what soccer was. But, so I played a year of soccer in California, played the trombone. These were things that I wasn’t even really aware of up until that point. And I’d be fine at the end of the year. But then I’d come back here, and I had my brother here, I had cousins here, and we’d do stuff like we’d camp at Kaena Point, we’d go diving, we’d go fishing, and we’d do all of that. And when it was time to leave to go back to California, I didn’t want to go back. And then so, finally what happened was the summer after my sixth grade year, I was at the airport, my family was at the airport, about to ship me back to California. And I said, No, I don’t want to back.

 

How old were you then?

 

Twelve.

 

Twelve.

 

And my stepfather took my side and said, ‘cause my mom was saying, You gotta get on the plane, you gotta get on the plane.

 

And I know that was a key moment for you.

 

That was huge.

 

It was your stepfather coming up and sticking up for you, right?

 

M-hm.

 

That was what was so important about it?

 

I felt like it wasn’t like that. But as a twelve-year-old kid, you’re thinking in more black and white terms, right? So it’s, you’re either with me, you’re against me. And it seemed like at that moment, that he was the only one on my side. Which is wrong, which is definitely wrong. Because my mother had … it was all for good intentions, obviously, my parents in California wanted me back. To them, I was their kid. Bring my kid back. But at the time, as a twelve-year-old, you’re thinking, Well, this guy is the only one who understands what I’m getting at.

 

So here we have conflict, having to decide between his family on the mainland and his family here in Hawaii. The catalyst that helps resolve the conflict? Chris’ stepfather, who backs up his decision and becomes the role model who has a huge influence on Chris McKinney’s life. For those who’ve read The Tattoo, this is all starting to sound familiar.

 

You know, especially in Tattoo, part of the story is about father seeking to toughen his son. I just make this wild, random guess and—

 

Yeah.

 

—figure it’s biographical. So … which father?

 

Oh, the stepfather. And I can’t remember it, but I can just imagine what must have been the look on his face the first time he saw me when I was about two or three years old.

 

Because of the leisure suit?

 

Because of the way my mom had dressed me, and all.

 

And he said, I’m gonna do something with this kid.

 

And he must have—yeah, he just must have taken one look at me and thought, What in the world is this woman doing to this poor kid? So, think about it this way. When I first moved to Kaneohe, ‘cause we lived with his parents for about oh, I don’t know, about a year before he bought the house in Kahaluu. I was used to having professional haircuts. He cut mine and my stepbrother’s hair with a razorblade. When we had a little bit of a fever, he’d stick us in freezing cold water. Basically, it was sort of like it almost felt like, even though it was the 1970s, early 1980s, that we were living in some sort of time warp plantation sort of the way you were brought up thing. And even his stories often are about the stories that he seems to enjoy telling the most are stories that involve people doing spectacularly crazy things. And so, that’s part of, I think for him, at least at the time, is part of what being a man is about. To not show the next guy that you’re not just tougher than him, but you’re crazier than him, that you’re willing to go further than he is willing to go, and he better recognize that before he messes with you, basically. So, The Tattoo, if it wasn’t for my stepfather, The Tattoo probably would not have been The Tattoo.

 

Being crazier than the next guy, willing to go further. Aren’t these the kind of characters to which we gravitate? The outcast, the anti-hero, the off the deep end villain. For Chris McKinney, it was haircuts with a razor, or defying his mainland family, a wealth of experience to dig into and expose. But even the best experiences need the right tools.

 

So you obviously had material to be a writer, but were you thinking about being a writer?

 

Absolutely not. I was thinking again, remember, in some ways, I am my mother’s son. And it is that cliché immigrant Asian story, or that philosophy, in that they want their children to succeed financially. I mean, that is the most important thing you can do in life, is you get a good job, and you make a lot of money. And I think that hearing my mother and my grandparents and stuff talk like that, all of my life, that I bought into that more than anything else. Art, that’s not what I’m gonna do; I’m going to make money. So for a long time, the plan, at least from about high school and for most of my undergrad, I was going to become a lawyer, an attorney. And then what had happened was that I spent probably too much time playing ukulele and drinking beer, and playing Nintendo during my undergrad that I needed to go to grad school in order to get into a good law school. So yeah, and at the same time, I had my bachelor’s degree in English. During my bachelor’s degree in English, I was parking cars for a living. After I completed my bachelor’s in English, I was still parking cars for a living. So either way, I thought that grad school, whether it would be an avenue to law school or anything, was probably a good idea, because I didn’t want to park cars for the rest of my life. Which was what it felt like. So it wasn’t until I went to grad school as an unclassified graduate student and again, I was very lucky because the professors who would take me, one being Joy Marcella, and the other one being Phil Damon, and another one, all three of them in the same semester being Ian MacMillan, when I wrote for them, they were all very encouraging. And I thought, Maybe I can do this.

 

Did you have a sense that your writing was fresh, and that you knew a world that most people hadn’t written about? If they knew it, they didn’t write about it.

 

Yeah. Quite honestly, it’s because if you were to look into the sort of educational background of, let’s say, all of the kids my age within that square two miles of where I grew up, I would put money down on the fact that I may be one of three that actually graduated from college. If that. So, in the sense that I was sitting there and I was writing stories among whatever, seventeen, eighteen other people, yeah, there was definitely nobody else writing the kinda stuff that I was writing.

 

Would you talk about some more of the influences on your writing? What, and who have influenced your writing?

 

There’s a list of teachers that I’m thankful that I had. The first great teacher I had was a guy named Mr. Guerrero, and this was when I was living in California. He was fantastic. He assigned the class a book, Animal Farm, that was the first novel that I had read that just totally resonated with me. And, at the time, I wasn’t thinking that I wanted to be a writer, but it was the first time that I saw, and I was in awe of what you could do with a book. At first, we read it, and then of course, it was this thing, this power corrupt scheme and all of that. And, I’d seen that before. But, when you find out that it’s based on the Bolshevik Revolu, that just blew my mind. Wait a minute, so this guy took history, he put it on some generic farm, and in that last moment, of course, when the animals are looking through the window and they can’t tell the difference between the pigs and the farmers, the human farmers, I mean, talk about an ending that I will never forget. So that was the first book that blew me away. And then in high school, I had a couple of good English teachers. I think one of ‘em still teaches at Mid Pac. Mrs. Takeshita, Mrs. Takabayashi; they were really good, and they were always encouraging. So I had teachers, and then there were books that influenced me. Shakespeare, Mac Beth particularly resonated with me when I read it in eleventh grade in high school. So that was the second story that just sort of blew me. Later on, stuff like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was huge for me. Still love that novel. Native Son by Richard Wright. And then later, Richard Price’s Clockers was a book that did a lot for me. And the last thing that really blew me away, that I think had a sort of permanent impact on me is not even a book, it’s a television series by David Simon called The Wire. To me, more vast than ninety-nine percent of the novels I’ve ever read.

 

Why?

 

I really don’t know he did it, but usually in a novel, even a relatively long one, you might see three or four character arcs happening simultaneously. But man, in The Wire, you have over twenty over the series. So you sort of see these characters, tension and all of that sort of building for them, and their lives going in a direction, whether it be up or down. And you see this happening with, it seems like, over two dozen characters. And to keep that all straight and together into one coherent story, to me is amazing. And as a storyteller, I think that genre lends itself. There’s so much opportunity there.

 

Where most of us see chaotic times and troubled souls, writers see opportunity. But the opportunities that make for a good novel can sometimes hit too close to home.

 

How did you get your knowledge of some of the things you talk about? You know, the gambling and homeless camps, and addiction, and gangs.

 

So, some of it’s firsthand. Unfortunately, I know a lot of people, I’m related to some people who have had their bouts of legal trouble. So they’re sources. So over the years, I’ve collected different friends. And collected is probably a bad word to use. But because I think I get along, it doesn’t matter what your background is, I think that I can talk to you, because I had practice at that. So whenever I’m working on something set over here, finding a source or being able to find somebody to talk to and tell me how their world actually works has never been that difficult.

 

Do any of the people you write about, in a thinly or majorly not that that’s a word, or disguised way, do they come back at you and say, Hey, brah, why’d you do that to me? Or your family members. People know you’re talking about your dad, that your brother lives in Mililani Mauka. Any fallout that means something to you?

 

No. I mean, my stepfather always had a sense of humor about it. Whatever. He was aware of the storyline in The Tatttoo, and there are similarities there. And he seems fine. He’s fine with it. I think, though, the only time that it sort of had emotional impact for me was that there’s that character in The Tattoo who ends up running his wife off the road, killing her, and then killing himself. An incident like that happened while I was growing up in Kahaluu. The family friend who did it, he was close. Basically, my dad cosigned the loan for his truck, he taught my brother, my older brother, my stepbrother how to drive standard. I mean, coolest guy in the world, right? And then he did that years later, and nobody, they had a hard time understanding that. So anyway, there’s the incident. I mean, there’s that shared incident. I’m not saying that the character in the novel is supposed to be him. But that incident is portrayed in the novel. And years later, I was doing a writing presentation workshop thing or whatever, and this was just a couple years ago his daughter was there. And, I hadn’t seen her since she was a baby, so I didn’t even recognize her or anything like that. And she asked me if the character in the book is supposed to be her dad, if that’s what he was like, and no. I mean, the guy I knew was nothing but the coolest guy in the world to me. So he’s not supposed to be the character. And yeah, so that was the only time that I thought, okay, I should maybe be a little bit more careful about this. But other than that.

 

But artistic license—

 

Artistic license.

 

You pick and choose—

 

Yeah, in fact, to me, the fear, if you’re going to fear those things, don’t write. Because that’s some of the best stuff, some of the best ideas, some of the best things that you can plug into your story will be things that may be scary and things that there’s actual risk in sort of hurting somebody’s feelings, or making somebody mad. If you’re gonna refuse to do that kinda stuff, find another vocation.

 

How do you feel about high school students getting The Tattoo as required or recommended reading in many schools?

 

Thankful. I mean, at first, it was weird. So, when the book first came out, and people would come up to me and say, I don’t read, but my teacher assigned this book, and I had to read it, and it was The Tattoo, at first, I didn’t really know what to say to that, ‘cause I just thought it was strange. But at this point, ten years later, eleven years later, I’m grateful. Something like that would never have occurred when I was in high school. I mean, high school, you were taught The Canon, Dead White Males. So, I think that it’s interesting to see that there’s more of a progressive thing going on in high schools, where teachers are allowed and some of the language in that book is kind of foul. So it’s gratifying to see that they have the courage not only to buck the idea that everything has to come from the Western canon, but also that they can take a little bit of risk with what they include in the curriculum.

 

For Chris McKinney, life experiences filled with leisure suits, a strict upbringing, and growing up with two families gave him material. So, how is Chris raising his own child?

 

How are you raising your daughter in Mililani?

 

It’s um …

 

And how old is she now?

 

My daughter is seven years old. And she’s great. But as I’m raising her, I’m doing so understanding that she will probably not know some stuff that I know. She’s being raised in a very different way than I was raised. And, just simple stuff, like, Don’t turn your back on the ocean. Being able to sort of navigate through the Kaneohe Bay reefs with a flat bottom boat. Even just being able to operate a outboard motor in general. These are things that … how to hunt, all of this kinda stuff, she won’t know how to do these things. And so, I guess I would be guilty of raising her like an American suburbanite would. Trying to teach her to be studious, trying to make sure that working with her when it comes to academic stuff, asking her what she wants to sign up for. She’s taking ballet, she’s taking musical theater now.   So I don’t know. I don’t know how I feel about that. I mean, on one hand you think that you’re giving your child, or hopefully you’re giving the child the tools to succeed, whatever that means, when they get older. But at the same time, it’s weird; you feel like you’re depriving them of something as well. So I don’t claim to know exactly what I’m doing.

 

Did you think of splitting the difference and taking her to Kaneohe Bay to fish, or—

 

Oh, I wish she’d be more into it. But that was the thing, though. I wasn’t really into it either. I just got dragged kicking; it didn’t matter if I was into it, I was gonna learn it. So I guess that might be the difference. If she were into it, I probably would do more of that stuff. But I mean, she likes going to the beach, but she’s more of, I want to play in the sand, not go out in a channel, and what about sharks, all of this kinda stuff. So, the idea would be, do I regret not forcing her, ‘cause I would have to force her to do more of that. And there might be, there probably is a little bit of regret that I’m not more firm. And I’m even more embarrassed to say that now, what if she were a boy, would that make a difference? I’m not sure.

 

Would you force her because you’re a tough guy?

 

Yeah, I’m not sure.

 

Or force him, I should say.

 

Force, yeah. I hope that’s not true, but it might be. And in fact, I had said when my wife and I first—we had our daughter, I told her once that I’m glad we had a daughter, because I don’t know what kind of father I’d be to a son. I’m not sure. I don’t know

 

We’re fortunate that we live in such a diverse place as Hawaii. Look around you. For every person you see, there is a story waiting to be told. Maybe there’s a writer who just needs a bit of passion, encouragement, and the right tools to become the next Chris McKinney. For Long Story Short, and PBS Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit pbshawaii.org.

 

Your daughter will have many books to read when she grows up, that her dad wrote. Any trepidation about her reading your books and seeing the real world life there?

 

No. I mean, actually, I’m relieved that that stuff is around, so I won’t be this sort of … hopefully, this blabbing, semi-senile old man who sort of repeats his stories. And, when I was kid this is what we did. And then, with her, we can hopefully talk about other things, and I can say, If you sort of want to know what I was thinking when I was younger, what sort of things I experienced when I was younger and all of that kinda stuff, here, you can read about it.

 

No problem.

 

No problem.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Maile Meyer

 

Original air date: Tues., Dec. 14, 2010

 

Building a Hawaiian Community of Artists and Storytellers

 

Growing up in Kailua, Maile Meyer was surrounded by a family that embraced anyone who walked through their door. Now, as the owner of Native Books, Maile has taken that tradtion of gathering and applied it to building a Hawaiian community of artists and storytellers.

 

Maile Meyer Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

My sisters and I, we’re our self-entertaining unit. We—

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

—were our teammates, we were our confidants, we were our competitors, we were our friends, and our helpmates, and my parents made a beautiful lifestyle for us where we could all grow up together.

 

What determines who we are, the people we become? Is it our heritage? Is it our surroundings? In the story of native Hawaiian bookstore owner and retail entrepreneur, Maile Meyer, a strong, close-knit family provided the foundation for her life. But it wasn’t until she embraced her Hawaiian ancestry that Maile Meyer became the person she is today.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou; I’m Leslie Wilcox. When you hear the word, gathering, what comes to mind? Your family? Your community? Your culture? What Maile Meyer sees when she envisions a gathering is all that. For this strong-willed, multidimensional Hawaiian woman, who launched such groundbreaking businesses as Native Books, Na Mea Hawaii, and Bookends, the concept of gathering has been her lifelong companion.

 

So many people know at least one member of your family; one of the—

 

M-hm.

 

—M’s or the—

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

—L. How did that happen? Tell us about your siblings, and your family.

 

Oh; thank you. Malia, Mele, Maile, Moana, Manulani, Luana, and Maui are the seven children of Harry and Emma Meyer. And my mother is an Aluli.

 

Now, you have one sister who’s an L; the rest are all—

 

Yes.

 

—have names that start with M.

 

Yes; and we just learned the stories, whenever we learned them. But we learned the story that there was a kupuna who was a Chinese woman, who told my mother, just asked, Why do you want to have so many girls? Don’t you want a son? Because, obviously, in the Asian culture, sons are so important. And my mother said, Why do you say that? And this woman said, Well, it’s because you keep naming your daughters—your children M. Whatever the superstition. So this woman said, Name your next child with something else. So Luana was born, the sixth girl. And then, number seven was Maui. So all of us, we lived in a compound. My mother was much more, what’s a good word … it just worked better that we were all there in this little nest. And so we lived alongside the canal in Kailua, right next to all of my aunties and uncles on my Aluli side. Every time when we had dinner, someone was at the table that wasn’t related to us. And they were always part of the family, or cousins, or relatives. I mean, it was a Hawaiian style. My mother didn’t necessarily connect to her Hawaiianess by name, but she exhibited qualities that really were all about what we as a people feel. So the inclusiveness, family was a very loose definition; it was anyone that entered into your sphere. And so, we hanai’d all kinds of different people who lived with us when they needed a place to stay.

 

What was your dad like?

 

My father was from the Midwest, and really wanted to get away, and get to a place of warmth, and an island. He had a vision of going to a place warm and far away from where he was. And he was in a small town, and he lost both of his parents at an early age, so he was very independent, and jumped on a—he was drafted and went off to Hawaii, and got off that ship, and was able to stay home with some finagling, stay in Hawaii. And he just was a man who believed that his daughters could do anything. He was really, really supportive of us being our own people, and independent thinkers. And when he showed up we had a very long driveway from where the garage was. And the minute we heard his car door slam, my sisters and I would race to see who could get to our father first to get a big hug. ‘Cause he worked really hard, but he really supported travel. We saw slaughterhouses and orchards, and machine shops, and places where he could show us how things were made, constantly educating us through experiencing things. He really fostered creativity, as my mother did, in the way we played with each other, the way we lived in our neighborhood.

 

Now, didn’t your mother lose her parents early, too?

 

She did. Her mother died when she was three, and her father died when she was six. And she was raised by the Sacred Hearts nuns in Nuuanu, and by her older sister, Alai, and Aima, actually, Auntie Aima. So they had that in common. So they didn’t have a lot of—my kinda broke the mold for themselves. They didn’t have an idea of what parenting looked like. But that idea of—there was discipline, and there order, and structure, and lots of classes to learn to sing, and dance, and read, and elocution, and I mean, it was hysterical, the things—

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

—that my parents tried out on us. They wanted a big family.

 

Did they speak of arts?

 

Oh, all the time. My mother—ever since we were little, we were the full class, because there were six of us. We took all kinds of painting, and drawing. And my sister Mele had a kiln by the time she was ten. And my mother had the Young of Heart Workshop and Gallery, which was a not-for-profit in Kailua, attached to St. Anthony’s Church. And she had about thirty volunteers there, and all my sisters and I set up chairs, took them down, we helped to teach classes. We did anything and everything she wanted. And so we grew up around artists, and art. And my sister Mele is a practicing artist and art educator. Moana is an artist, Luana is a teacher, Malia was a nurse, my sister Manu was an educator, and creativity is kind of at the core. Creative thinking and problem solving is kind of embedded in our family. And we all tend to work for ourselves, because my father and my mother were very entrepreneurial and independent.

 

What’d your dad do?

 

My father ran a lot of little businesses until he landed in a collaboration with my Uncle Kepp, who built something—a hotel called the Hawaiiana. Uncle Kepp was a developer of small, fabulous projects all over the islands. He was amazing. And he built The Hawaiiana. And he was not a good hotel operator, and my father was. So my father ran The Hawaiiana for about eighteen years, with my mother at home with all of us in Kailua. And he did a phenomenal job. He hired all Hawaiians. I mean, George Naope was the first hula show at The Hawaiiana. Iolani Luahine used to go there. I mean, all the women and men who were part of the Hawaiian entertainment movement in the 50s all did shows around the pool.

 

Is this The Hawaiiana Hotel that was in—

 

On Beachwalk.

 

—existence until recently?

 

Yes.

 

A low—

 

Exactly.

 

—key, low stories.

 

On Beachwalk, by The Breakers.

 

And that retained its appeal, although lost some of its luster—

 

Yes, yes.

 

—even into the 2000s.

 

Exactly. In the 50s and everyone who was there, who was a guest, became part of our family. So they would come in the summertime. My father would take them by bus to our home, and we would—

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

—do hula for them, we cooked for them, we cleaned for them. We did all the—we just—they became beloved. And we would visit them. Those were the days when people came to Hawaii, could have access to Hawaiians and local families, and that’s the way they were treated, like family.

 

Despite instilling a strong sense of family in their children, Harry and Emma Meyer didn’t raise them to stay close to the nest. Soon, it was time for Maile Meyer to go away for college; and when she did, she had one overpowering criterion.

 

I just wanted to go where it was warm. So I didn’t really get that—you know, the Stanford energy was a Stanford energy. It was the warmest school that I got into. So I went. And I had a sister, Mele, who was there, so we both were at Stanford. And I had a fabulous, fabulous time there. I just am completely engrossed by whatever I’m doing, so I was so naïve, coming from Hawaii. Oh, my god. And people were blown away at how naïve I was. I would jump on my bike with my swimsuit, and go to the pool, and people would look at you like, Why are you wearing your swimsuit? You wear your swimsuit at a pool, you don’t go to the pool in it. Or I’d buy people ice cream, and they would be weirded out. I don’t know you, how come you’re buying me ice cream?

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Why are you smiling so much? I mean, there was a real cultural process that I had to understand. That people from Hawaii, we want to include, it’s our nature. And in different places, people don’t necessarily want all that loving on. [CHUCKLE]

 

How did that affect what you did?

 

I was misunderstood a lot; believe me. But because I knew at my core that’s who I was, I just held steady, and did what I did. And people were always commenting about, That Hawaiian girl. And I didn’t really associate myself ethnically as a Hawaiian at that point in time.

 

Why not?

 

Because during that time period, in the 70s, I learned Hawaiian. I took a Hawaiian history class at Punahou. It was taught by the band teacher, from Michigan. And so, it was a totally throw-away focus at Punahou during that time.

 

What about your parents? Your mom was Hawaiian.

 

Well, of cour—but we were raised—my mother’s father—so many Hawaiians passed during the turn of the century, and there was so much pain with the overthrow. My grandfather decided that in order to survive, he needed to Westernize, but never left the core of who he was as a Hawaiian. He wanted to adapt. So he was the first Hawaiian that got a law degree, from Michigan and Yale. He went and got all the palapala that you needed, all the paperwork to say that you could come compete, and you could be part of the system, because he knew it was a system that was going to help his people; or so he thought. But he could never get on the bench, he could never get a judgeship, and he was very disillusioned by that. But he was raised my mother, went to the Royal Hawaiian to learn how to—or the Moana to learn how to eat artichokes properly, and hold her teacup right. So it was a very difficult time to be a Hawaiian, the turn of the century. But did my mother always pray and include others, and her generosity and her aloha spirit? Those were Hawaiian things that she didn’t necessarily identify as Hawaiian—she was Hawaiian-Chinese. But they clearly were; that was where they came from.

 

So here you are at Stanford University. What did you take up? Were you like so many people at that age who say, Well, we’ll see what happens after the first two years of the—

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

—core requirements?

 

When you’re in an environment where there’s so much learning that you can do, it was such a joy to just fill the days with all kinds of classes across all kinds of disciplines. And I ended up staying in the arts, because it was just an extension. I could be creative. In other words, I’m kind of web thinker, so there’s not one solution set for me, and the arts were a place where I could come up with lots of solutions to any one problem. So I did a lot of photography and design, and then went and studied over in Italy, and had an incredible time. I did a study on contemporary art in a medieval city, in renaissance city, and there wasn’t any. I mean, it was literally underground. And it was things like umbrellas stuck in fruit. You know, that was like the best that they could do in the 70s. But I loved the arts, and gravitated towards those things, and really enjoyed my time in that department.

 

Then you went over to the other side of your brain, and you got an MBA in arts management.

 

I did. Which was such an interesting experience, because the people I were with were ballet dancers, and museum painters and artists that weren’t good enough to do the thing.

 

Is that true? Do you mean that seriously?

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Or are you being modest?

 

You know what? I didn’t choose that. You have to be really fearless to be an artist in today’s world, because creative people aren’t supported, whether you’re a musician or a dancer, an artist, or a writer. Those are paths that you feel compelled to do, because it’s soul work that you’re doing. So that character, I was always better in a support role.

 

And by now, you’re at UCLA for your—

 

I’m at UCLA.

 

—MBA.

 

Yes. And I met my husband, Michael, at Stanford. He was from the East. Very buttoned down and formal. And I was shorts and slippers, and the same tee-shirt kinda thing. And then he went to UCLA Law School, and then I went to UCLA Biz School. So we took the bus together with our brown bag lunches, and were graduate students together. But the business school, we had much better parties than the law school. So [CHUCKLE]—

 

Important distinction.

 

Absolutely. It was much more fun to be in business school. And everybody went off, migrated to Wall Street, and then the arts community, we all went into things that were much more creative. And so I got to work for the Olympic Arts Festival in the Olympics, which was fabulous.

 

What did you do for them?

 

I was a venue accountant at all of the Olympic Arts Festival started the LA Arts Festival that’s been around since1984. So it brought in incredibly creative acts from all over the world. So we handled all the box offices. So myself and six other arts management graduates, we had badges that let us in anywhere, to see anything. And then when the shows were done, we handled all the tickets and the accounting. And then I migrated over to the Olympics, and I was head of the payroll for the Olympics, while the Olympics were going on.

 

Sounds like a dream job.

 

It was hysterical. I was younger by—we had all these accountants in suits, sitting on long rows, trying to process payroll from all the venues. And they put me in charge of all of them. It was ridiculous. [CHUCKLE]

 

Why was it ridiculous?

 

Because I was really young, and I was a minority woman. And it was bizarre. And I had a great time. We ran out of money one day; I told them, Take your ATM cards, get it out of the machine. I mean, because you could come up with different ideas, if people trusted you. And Peter Roth was a man who went to whoever had the competency. So he let—

 

He came to you?

 

Well, he let all of the arts people, all of the venue accountants, we all ended up getting placed in different areas. And so ran payroll until I went to work for Chiat/Day. But it was like being in a war. I mean, we did whatever it took to pay these people, and it was very bizarre, but it was lots of fun.

 

The Olympics doesn’t last forever, unfortunately.

 

No, it didn’t.

 

So then, what did you do?

 

Then, I went to work for Chiat/Day.

 

And what is Chiat/Day?

 

Chiat/Day was an advertising agency that, I think, I was the seventy-fifth employee, and I think there’s ten, fifteen, twenty thousand of them now. But we worked out of the old Biltmore Hotel down in Waikiki—I mean, hello, down in Los Angeles. So I was an account executive for them.

 

And whose accounts did you handle?

 

I started with Nike, and then I worked on the Apple account, and Pizza Hut, and lots of different accounts; mostly Nike. In the 80s, at the Olympics, Lee Clow did all the creative, and so I got to work directly with an amazing man.

 

So he’s a certified genius, isn’t he?

 

He is. And if you saw him, you’d think he was a homeless man. When I first met him, I couldn’t believe that he was the creative genius. And he was a pure creative genius. And inside his jacket, whenever we went anywhere, were all the things that he had to remember. Because he couldn’t remember them; he was too busy getting a great idea out of that light bulb over there.

 

Working in the 1984 Olympics, being part of a successful advertising agency, with Nike and Apple as your clients; for most people, that’s a career. For Maile Meyer, there was a higher calling.

 

At that point, having that much fun, did you intend to stay in advertising in LA?

 

The advertising business in the 80s, when I left towards the end of the 80s, it was intense. People were doing all kinds of crazy things, and they were producing bad work. And so, my creative team—I couldn’t go up and sell bad work, ‘cause it wasn’t that creative, that one window of time. So I decided to leave. Because I would much rather have been creative, than someone selling someone’s work. Just because you worked at a creative place did not mean you were creative. So I started doing some game development with one of my brother-in-laws in LA, and I went and traveled. My husband was working really hard at a law firm, and so I left and went to Europe and dug ditches, and planted in orchards, and spent time with a really good friend of mine, who was a landscape architect, and traveled, just to kind of let go of that workaholic … ‘cause Chiat/Day, we worked twenty-four/seven. And then we came home, ‘cause it was time to kind of connect to a community. I loved LA. I love lots of choices, to be able to reorder the universe. But Michael, that’s not his idea of good time, so it was time to move back to community.

 

How did you know that Michael would love living in Hawaii? After all, he wasn’t of this place, and he—

 

Well, you know—

 

—was from the East Coast.

 

Yeah. Well, you can’t talk people to into living on islands. So it was his decision to come home.

 

Home.

 

Yeah. Because he’s a community person, so he wants to run into people you know on the streets. I love wherever I am, so I was so happy. But I couldn’t make the decision to come home. That was not my decision to make. And he was so happy. He tells a story about being at Aloha Stadium, at a game, a football game with my father. And the people behind were very concerned when it started to rain, and kind of reached over and covered him with an umbrella, and the announcer said, Make sure you don’t block anybody’s view. And it just seemed so kind and gentle, and he was really, really taken by that, and wanted to live in place where people at a stadium, filled with thousands of strangers, could still be kind.

 

When you moved back to Hawaii, did you think about advertising? You had some great experience, some nice cred in advertising.

 

[CHUCKLE] Well, I always laugh, because I went to Bishop Museum Press, thinking it was publicity press. I mean, what an idiot.

 

But it was a printing press.

 

Printing. So as I was talking to the production guy, he’s sitting there, and I’m noticing multiple titles of the same book, faded ad then more. And I thought, Oh, my god, they’re publishers, and those are different editions of books. But I was hired at Bishop Museum for half of what I was making in Los Angeles. We’re retro yuppies, Michael and I. We’ve always taken jobs where we get paid less every time. And so I went to the Bishop Museum Press, because it wasn’t about the money, it was about the experience and connecting to the Museum.

 

Did you realize you had changed substantially when you came back?

 

I did, through the eyes of others. And it was interesting, because I was hired from the mainland by Dr. Duckworth, who hired me because he didn’t know that I was Hawaiian. ‘Cause when I came back, I was one of the highest, whatever tiered, because that was not the time. When still, Hawaiian—the incredible Hawaiian leaders were—that was the day when Manu Boyd was on the switchboard, and Pat Bacon was using Correct-O-Tape and typing. These people were not being valued at all.

 

Are you saying that Dr. Duckworth did not know you were Hawaiian, and that was a good thing in his mind?

 

He didn’t know, and if he did, he may not have hired me. I don’t know. But it was the strangest thing, to come and see these incredible resource people not being valued for who they really were. And as Hawaiians, we’re waiting; we’re not trying to assert. And Koko Willis, the head of Molokai Clan, he was the janitor. He could have run the museum, for god’s sake. But because I had credentials. Probably the only time I ever tell people where I went to school is when I absolutely, positively have to. Because it doesn’t matter. But it mattered to him, and that’s how I got the job.

 

Stanford and UCLA.

 

Mm.

 

Done.

 

M-hm. [CHUCKLE]

 

And meanwhile, you’re going through this acculturation period again, where you’re getting back to your Hawaii roots. How did that change process go for you?

 

Like everything, you just start to laugh. It was funny. Because I just didn’t know what I was talking about, I didn’t fit in. And I had to learn humor, laugh about the mistakes that I made. And not knowing how to pronounce Hawaiian words properly, being in places, and especially when I started Native Books, because I took books out into community all the time. And one of the places that helped the most for me was going to the Hawaiian Leadership Development Program, which my sister Manulani, at the University of Hilo, that’s how Native Books started. And I went there for years beforehand, and then started Native Books, but learned to be in community again. To actually be with other Hawaiian people, and people who were serving the Hawaiian community. And so, learning through being, and doing, and gathering, was the right way to do it. From community.

 

So there you were now, this is your first your business, Native Books.

 

M-hm. My daughter Emma, who’s twenty now, she came with me, and she was six months old. We went to Manu’s. The Leadership Conference was in one big room. I had a table in the back where I had brought books in order to help pay for our airfare, and a little ordering sheet, and I passed Emma along to the Hawaiian to my right, and children are communal property, in the best sense of the word. So everybody loved on Emma. And I looked up, and I saw her being passed around the room. And I kept writing orders, and I came back with a hundred orders, and my first person to help me was my mother, sitting across a desk. And that’s how Native Books was started, with family. Family being there, family supporting, family just helping in every, and any way. That’s how I started.

 

And nobody trying to collect a paystub over it.

 

No. [CHUCKLE] That wasn’t the idea.

 

Your approach to business has never been conventional. What is your approach?

 

I think if I was told that I was in retail, I would be unnerved by that. Because I don’t want to be in the exchange of goods. That’s not what I do. What I do is, I create and hold space for relationships to develop between people, between knowledge and access to knowledge, and opportunity for people to share and be a resource to each other. So books are a form of that delivery of knowledge, but so are conversation and time spent in practice. So just being a resource for a community is really what I’ve wanted to be, and to do it with people who want to have that model, where money is a very low frequency kind of method of exchange. It’s for people who don’t know each other, and then you can barter, which is a wonderful thing that’s coming back. I mean, now, all kinds of things are being traded. We have fish, dried fish and poi on Friday that comes from Keoki Fukumitsu, and people will come, and we’ll trade them if they want a bag of poi, and they want to drop off something. There’s other ways, we can be an exchange.

 

But how does that translate into the dollars and cents of the IRS?

 

M-hm. Well, communities support us, so people come, and when they need to buy something, they buy something; but they don’t come to Native Books just to buy something. They come to learn something, they come to get advice on something, they come to hear Hawaiian, they come to watch and participate at a reading, or we recently had an event where I was giving away a very beloved book on The Duke. It was published by the only native Hawaiian publisher, Top Down Publishing. And the books had been remaindered, and I bought them so that they wouldn’t be destroyed, because they had value to me. And I gave them away based on people’s ability to write me a story about a Hawaiian that inspired them. So you couldn’t buy the book, or put a silly price, because it wasn’t about buying the book. It was about sharing a story, and sharing a resource to an inspiring Hawaiian, The Duke. So I can do that when it’s my own business. I can’t do that with every product, but I can do that with some things. I can give away things, I can make them have less monetary value, I can make them have more monetary value. You can buy a poi pounder at Na Mea Hawaii, but if you are a practitioner, you will pay half of what you would pay if you’re putting it on your shelf. So if we use the things that we value in the ways where they can be helpful to community and be of service, they have a different price on them, to me.

 

Yeah, there are times when one passes your store, where you can’t tell that it is a retail operation.

 

Yeah, yeah.

 

It’s a … kumu are teaching, and reading is being done. It just—

 

Yeah.

 

—seems like a place of free-flowing knowledge.

 

Those are happy days for me, ‘cause then I know it’s working, ‘cause people are in many forms of learning and growing. And the Hawaiian word for learning and teaching is ike or ao; you can do both. You can be a teacher, and a learner. And if we can be that way for each other, then there’s some real dynamic in relationship that happens. So that’s the kind of place I want to be, and I want to figure out what that form looks like as we move ahead in time, because twenty years from now, who knows if there will be bookstores, or what form the books will take. But I know the sharing of wealth and knowledge, that will still be a need. So how can Native Books and Na Mea Hawaii kind of address that need? Maybe kupuna are always gathered there, and people can talk directly, or there’ll be people learning from kupuna. There are so many forms that it can take. So I’m looking forward to what’s gonna be happening next.

 

For some, the concept of gathering a community that shares and trades ideas, services, and goods is not the ideal retail model. But that doesn’t matter to Maile Meyer; she wouldn’t have it any other way. For Long Story Short, and PBS Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit pbshawaii.org.

 

My sister Manu, my sister Mele, Moana, Luana, Maui; all of us in our own way, we reach out in the ways we were raised, and there’s a lot of pushback, because people don’t want to be kissed if they don’t know you. They don’t want you to buy them something and tell them, Oh, don’t worry, you can pay me back. ‘Cause they don’t want you to do that, they have a different construct. But we’re Hawaiians in our land, and we can celebrate generosity, and kindness, and respect for our people, and for others, without having to feel like if I want to give away something, I can, it’s my store. If I want to share something, I can.

 

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