The hardest hunger in the whole wide world is to reach for somebody gone forever.
from "The Market," a poem by Kurtis Lamkin
This Saturday will mark five years since the passing of my husband, Barry Shannon. I call it his Rebirthday. I like that better than "the anniversary of his death." April 7, 2007, happened to be the day before Easter, as it is again this year. Being the sentimental fool that I am, driven more by superstition than religion (which shouldn't be confused with morality or spirituality, but that's another column), I've been anticipating Barry's 5th Rebirthday with vivid and varied emotions.
Five years into widowhood, I'm still learning about the grieving process. As my aunt told me at the start of my journey, it gets easier with time, but it never gets easy. I've become more comfortable in the role; the hunger pangs are fewer and further between. Yet there still are mornings when I wake up expecting to see Barry next to me. And nights when I fall asleep pondering the fine line between being alone and being lonely.
I've adjusted well to living alone, better than I had thought I would. Along with time, humor has been the most valuable instrument in my coping toolbox. About six months after Barry died, I started writing comedic monologues on death and widowhood. A year later, with brilliant co-stars Willie K, Eric Gilliom and Steve Grimes, I performed "Kathy Collins' Death Comedy Jam" at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. It was great therapy for me, and for the audience too, I hope, laughing in the face of death, cutting the Grim Reaper down to size.
There were plenty of laughs at the MACC last Friday night with Augie T and Na Alii of Comedy: Andy Bumatai, Ed Kaahea, Frank DeLima, Mel Cabang . . . da beeg bambuchas of Hawaii humor. Castle Theater was packed to the balcony boxes with more locals than I've ever seen there, spanning several generations.
The day after their Oahu performance, the final stop of the statewide tour, I called Augie to congratulate and commend him. "Brah, I always knew you was funny, but wow, laulau . . . you get brains too! And guts. Musta been hard work." I can't help it, Augie brings out the Tita in me.
He said that while it did take some time to work out the logistics and the business end of the production, putting together the show itself was a breeze. "When you work with real pros, who respect each other, it's easy. I just asked them to bring their best game, give me their best 20 minutes."
And that's exactly what they did. Ed Kaahea was simply fabulous. A cleaner, gentler (but still outrageously kolohe) Mel Cabang was funnier than ever. Andy Bumatai, who has always been my favorite, proved that he is still the king of observational comedy. And Frank DeLima was positively gleeful, performing his classics: Imelda, Lucille, even the old T-shirt sales pitch.
But I have to admit, my biggest laugh of the night came not from one of Na Alii, but from a mere commoner, the hapless soul (and incredibly good sport) picked out of the audience to portray the jilted moke in DeLima's "Lucille" bit.
In case you've never seen Frank's show, he employs audience participation in his pidgin version of the Kenny Rogers ballad. The female volunteer plays Lucille in pantomime to Frank's singing. The male victim - er, volunteer - doesn't get off so easy. He has to recite the chorus too:
What, Lucille? You going leave me now?
The kids nevah eat yet, mango season not pau.
I know my car stay smokin',
And the stereo stay broken,
But wow . . . laulau!
Usually the guy knows the words and delivers them with gusto and enthusiasm. Or a great deal of embarrassment. But this time Frank apparently picked out the only one in the crowd who didn't know the song. Or maybe he was too nervous to recall the words. In any case, Frank discreetly fed him the lines and Les (first names only, to protect the innocent and embarrassed) repeated them aloud. With a fair amount of gusto and a lot of giggles. When he got to the end and said, "But wow . . . brown cow," I nearly fell out of my chair. It wasn't just the line, it was the delivery. Les stole the show.
So mahalo, Augie, Andy, Ed, Frank, Mel . . . and Les. Thanks for the memories and thanks for the laughs. With the Rebirthday blues hangin' 'round my door, Na Alii of Comedy was just what the doctor ordered.
Augie says a hana hou show is likely, perhaps later this year. When I heard that, all I could say was, "Oh, wow . . . brown cow!"
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is kathy firstname.lastname@example.org.