Talking Story

Mainland Living

I recently watched the movie Argo. It’s based on the true story of when the US Embassy in Iran was taken over by militants in 1979 and its staff was held hostage for a staggering 444 days. Six embassy staffers escaped to the Canadian Ambassador’s house where they hid until a gutsy CIA operative came up with a hail Mary plan that wouldn’t work in today’s world of cell phones and internet access. Even knowing how it ended, the movie kept me on the edge of my seat. Cleverly edited to include real homeland responses and reaction to the events, it brought back a lot of memories of hearing Walter Cronkite’s gravelly voice announce the mounting tally of hostage days spent in captivity—along with flashbacks of posturing politicians and news people eager to spin the wheel on their daily game of What America Should Do.

There are many moments in the movie that are hilarious to those who know their history, like when a government official claims there’s nothing to worry about; the hostages will be freed in 24 hours or when another one says Carter wants to wait because he’s planning a secret military strike. I choked on my popcorn and Diet Coke on that one, laughing so hard. If you like political thrillers and history, you’ll love this flick.

Thinking back to that time, I left the theater realizing that I was far more politically aware in my younger days. News and world events had an urgency to them that made staying informed, having an opinion, and being involved feel as critical as breathing or eating. It was startling to recognize that for all the world’s brave new instant access via smart phones and the internet, I feel less connected to world events now than back in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

It could’ve been due to growing up in Hawaii during a time when film at eleven meant footage deemed too graphic for primetime by most mainland broadcast stations was regularly shown on our 6 pm news. I have vivid memories of the fall of Saigon and of asking my mother what she would do if we were some of the faces locked behind the gates as the helicopters took off and landed on aircraft carriers. I watched, astonished that as soon as the people scrambled out, ducking under the still rotating blades, the helicopters were pushed into the ocean, splash, to make room for the next one to land. When I asked why didn’t they go back, “Not enough fuel or time,” was my mother’s response.

It might’ve had something to do with soldiers and wars seeming very close back then when PTSD Vietnam vets lived rough in the jungle near our house and would come into our yard from the beach to use our outdoor get-the-sand-off-before-even-thinking-about-going-into-the-house cold water  shower. One vet in ragged camouflage pants spotted my sister and our teddy bear picnic and collapsed at her feet, weeping silent tears into the grass as he almost, but never quite, reached out to touch her long dark brown hair. That day our mother magically appeared and gently lead us back to the house, locking the door behind us. “He’s just a little sad,” she said, “because of the war,” when we asked why.

Boat People, those brave souls who’d rather take their chances on the open ocean in leaky sampans than risk another day under communist rule, were also more than photos on the news to me. The kind janitor at my mother’s office who always made sure the coffee was hot was once a respected doctor; the gas station jockey who washed our windows and checked the tire pressure used to own a chain of grocery stores.

For a few years, hard news was my life. My days revolved around the evening broadcast, getting it on the air just as the meatloaf was coming out of the oven. If it bleeds, it leads was more than just a joke back then. The bloodiest footage I ever saw was in the raw video feeds uploaded by freelance videographers during the 1980s uprising in the Philippines. When ousted President Marco ended up seeking asylum in Hawaii and living in a house on Kalanianeole highway, the main road from Honolulu to where my family lived, I couldn’t believe it, nor the hours long traffic jams caused by protesters and pro-Marco supporters duking it out in the street. Imelda’s shoe collection was also very real, especially when secret service types routinely hustled everyone out of Liberty House so she and her entourage could shop. No, really. They’d shut down Kahala Mall’s poshest shops so she could get her shoe fix. I saw it more than once.

Growing up, politics and news were regular dinner conversation, opinions tossed back and forth like the salad; my parents seldom agreed back then, and neither gave an inch. Over french fries and Cokes my friends and I debated:  women’s rights, the right to choose, affirmative action, regressive taxes, trickle down theories, evolution in schools.

It all mattered greatly back then.

Today, not so much.

Part of the reason it’s taken the backseat could be that I now live out in the country where the biggest concerns tend to be keeping chickens out of the neighbor’s garden and funding a new community rec center; the threat of soldiers marching over the hill seem a lot more remote than they did years ago when I couldn’t swing a cat without hitting a GI or a G-man.

It’s a symptom of my isolationist feelings that I seldom watch the evening news anymore, preferring to read news online or to listen to brief top of the hour newscasts on the radio while playing chauffeur between piano and soccer. When news is reduced to a snappy sound bite or a headline on an IPad, it’s easy to maintain the illusion of being informed without really knowing anything.

If I try to put a date to it, I’d say I stopped caring about news a few years after 9-11, after losing people in the towers and watching the days go from red to orange to yellow to orange alert again. It’s hard work to maintain that kind of immediacy day after day, especially when carpool and the science fair keep rearing their heads.

I’d say my current apathy is less a loss of faith in country and leadership than it is a loss of faith that my opinion or voice really matters. The young and eager believe they can do anything, that the rightness of their vision ensures eventual success, that all effort no matter how small somehow matters. Twitter and Facebook are full of their optimistic rhetoric, but I fear it’s the barricade scene from Les Mis played over and over.

I’ve lived long enough to know that the things you anticipate are never quite what bite you in the butt. It’s what you don’t see, what doesn’t make the headlines, that gets you every time. The sad truth is that now, when I see the passion for news and world events in the younger generation’s eyes, I don’t feel hope or even inspired. I just feel exhausted. I’ve run this marathon before.

Today, I’m blaming my melancholic outlook less on the recent presidential election and memories stirred by Argo and more on the new blanket of snow outside my office window. An island girl needs sunshine, warm weather, and surf to chase away the winter-long blues. Time to see something more like Chasing Mavericks. Maybe then next week’s blog will be sunnier and surfier.

Like most people, I have a cell phone. Everyone in our house does. It’s come to the point where the only people who call our house line are elderly relatives who think it costs too much to call a cell phone—and telemarketers.

I know all about do not call lists and escalating to call center managers and saying phrases like do not call again, take me off your list, and no matter how many times you call I will not donate/buy/recommend your product/service/time share. With all the loopholes that basically come down to if I’ve used, thought about, or stood in the vicinity of their product, they can call me, it’s a losing battle.

Since I work from home, I’m the one who answers most of the telemarketing calls, about three or so a month. I used to hate them, but now they go something like this:


Long pause while the telemarketer rushes to unmute the mic and swallow coffee, surprised by a live person on the end of the line. “Good afternoon! Is um, La…Lei…um, Ms. Parker available?”

Now I know it’s a telemarketer. Even my ninety-two year old grandmother can say my name.

“Carlotta Tuskadora! Don’t even try!” I snarl.


“You can call from a different number, but I still know it’s you! He’s not leaving me, you hear? I don’t care if the paternity tests came back positive. Those twins are your problem, not mine!”

“Ma’am? I think—”

“You may be my half-sister, but he’s my boyfriend! We’re getting married and moving to Toronto. I’ll get my operation there, and then we’ll see who’s the fat one!”

“I don’t—”

“That’s right you don’t! The solicitation charges didn’t stick; judge gave me probation, so you can just forget about me going to county lock-up any time soon.”


“Don’t call again, Carly, or I’m calling the cops. Oh, yeah. Tell Mama I said hey.”

And then I hang up.

It’s even more fun if the telemarketer is a dude!

Less, if it turns out it really was my ninety-two year old grandma.

On Saturday, November 17, 2012, at the Layton Barnes & Noble, Na Keiki Ka Ua Kilihune Hula Halau performed at my book signing for One Boy, No Water.

After a welcoming oli, Kumu Hula Barcarse taught us about the Hawaiian alphabet through a song and hula I learned when I was their age! These talented kids performed using kala’au (wooden sticks) and niu (coconut shells) and chanted and sang as they danced. One of the crowd favorites was a lively Samoan dance accompanied by Kumu’s ‘ukulele. For some of the kids, at four years old, it was their first ever performance. (Special aloha goes out to the Dads who performed with their kids. You guys get my vote for Father of the Year.)

Too bad Aunty was so busy watching na keiki, she only got a few photos!

Mahalo nui loa to Kumu Barcarse and the youngest members of his dance school for their gift of hula, oli, and mele. They brought a lot of warm aloha to wintery Utah!

Friday night the family and some friends went to see Cirque du Soleil’s Quidam. I’d seen other Cirque du Soleil shows, so I knew what to expect. My son Aaron not so much.

“Clowns!” He shuddered as we walked up the steps.

“Yeah. I told you it was a circus.”

“You’ve taken me to the circus. I remember the circus. Lots of red and gold. Elephants. Tigers. Girls in skimpy clothing sparkling on a trapeze.”  He gestured to the posters lining the walls. “Who in their right mind does a clowns-only circus?”

“Not orange wigged with big red noses and floppy shoes,” I said. “More refined. Think Marcel Marceau.”

French clowns,” he glowered.

“French Canadian,” I said. “There’s a difference.”

He sniffed. “There better not be any audience participation. Especially not involving clowns.”

“Uh, probably not,” I said as I spotted a mime stalking a level below us, randomly plucking people from their seats, adjusting a tie, flirting with a pretty girl, rubbing a bald man’s head for luck. “Here,” I said, handing him some cash, “Go get a snack.”

“Aaron still wearing his costume?” my husband Kevin asked as our son slipped down the aisle.

“Yeah. Surly Teenager,” I said, referring back to my response a few days ago when the kids’ piano teacher asked about Aaron’s non-costume at the Halloween recital.

“He really hates clowns,” Kevin mused.

“I noticed.”

“Goes back to the Halloween when he was two and the clown waiter at Olive Garden honked his nose at him. It’s like he has a big neon sign with an arrow over his head and a target on his back. Remember the rodeo clown this summer? Chased Aaron all the way up the bleachers pretending to steal his fries.”

“The audience thought Aaron was joking back,” I said.

“Not me. I saw the terror in his eyes when he realized the clown was following him up the stairs.”

I shrugged. “He might have been playing along.”

Kevin scoffed. “Playing? Try panic. He shrieked like a girl with a spider in her hair and sprinted to the top trailing fries and ketchup.”

“His seat was up there,” I said.

“Jeff was up there. Don’t you remember? Jeff stood up and Aaron cowered behind him.”

I smiled. “That’s what 6’6” uncles are for. Plus it got a big laugh.” I frowned. “Maybe sending him to get a snack wasn’t such a good idea.”

“Clowns. He hates them,” said my husband warming to his topic like a preacher on Sunday. “He’d rather swim with sharks.”

“That can be arranged,” I said.

A little while later Aaron was back in his seat munching on popcorn, the mime was safely backstage, and the house lights dimmed. A spotlight shone on a bored young girl meandering in a living room while her parents read the paper and ignored the thunderstorm outside. A headless giant carrying an enormous umbrella knocked on the door, entered, and handed the girl his hat.

“I don’t get it,” whispered my daughter Cheryl in my ear.

“Shhhhh!” I said. “Just watch.”

The giant left, the girl put the hat on her head, and Cirque du Soleil’s version of  the Cat in the Hat with Thing 1 and Thing 2 in tow appeared next, tilting the world sideways. The living room furniture with parents still seated flew to the rafters while a German guy inside a silver ring started spinning center stage.

“What? What’s going on?” Anxiety and confusion rained down as Cheryl practically climbed into my lap.

“It’s all her imagination! Shhhhh! Watch!” I growled.

“She’s got one messed up mind if this is her imagination,” muttered Cheryl, slinking back to her chair.

Cheryl pestered. What was going on, why were all these weird people on stage, and how come the girl’s parents didn’t react to any of it? She wanted to get a handle on the story. An evening at the Cirque is more like a concert than a play. Cheryl’s not mentally wired for a theme thinly disguised as a plot, something that exists to conveniently link all the pieces together as they explore concepts as squishy as imagination and childhood play. She’s my tenacious one, the one least easily distracted, the one who prods what’s on her plate, always wanting chicken to look like chicken and to hold all the sauces, please. Taking my cue from the high-flying parents now sinking out of sight behind the orchestra, I ignored her.

I let the magic happen.

And it did. I watched my kids get drawn into the performances, relaxing and letting their guards down as the colors, sounds, and energy washed over them. They stopped worrying and thinking and began experiencing. Crafted and honed so that the impossible seemed effortless, the acts were splendid, building thrills and laughter throughout the show in stormy rollercoaster waves. It was, quite simply, wonderful.

And Aaron’s favorite part? The scenes with the clowns and audience participation!

One Boy, No Water, Book 1 in the Niuhi Shark Saga, will be available in stores and online September 29, 2012. The series is set in Hawaii and tells the story of  Zader, an 11 year old boy, and his adventures as he discovers who—and what—he really is. Most of the descriptions of island life in the series are true. However, in some areas Aunty Lehua may have stretched the truth just a little bit. Here’s the real scoop about customizing a surfboard using paint pens.

Customizing a Surfboard

In One Boy, No Water

You can customize a surfboard with paint pens, a few basic supplies, and a little imagination.

The real scoop…

It really is that easy to create your own works of art on a surfboard! There are many sites on the internet that give step by step instructions on how to repair and customize surfboards using paint pens and spray guns. Check ‘em out.

In about a week I will be back on Hawaiian beaches, scrunching my toes in the sand, and yelling at my kids to watch out for portagee-man-o-war, not sharks, and to put on more sunscreen. Always with the sunscreen. I’ve got some research projects lined up and plan to take literally thousands of pictures so I can show you, Dear Reader, all of the delightful things I miss and love most about my island home.

And then there’s the food.

Yes, you can find Asian markets on the mainland. You can even order poi over the internet. But the real island flavors come alive when marinated in the humid, salty-sweet atmosphere of Hawaii. None of the recipes taste quite the same on the mainland. Believe me, I’ve tried.

When I talk to others who are living far from their native homes, there is always a dish that they long for, a little comfort food that they can taste with their eyes closed. Food means family and friends and a little bite of home can trigger all those complicated and wonderful feelings, transporting us back to time when we couldn’t see over the tabletop.

My husband teases me that we eat our way around the island, stopping at little hole in the wall places to sample everything from manaupua to shave ice to guri-guri to malasadas. My son just opens his mouth and swallows it all and often goes for seconds or thirds or fourths with the gluttony of a bottomless teenage male. My daughter is much more cautious. She sniffs at things, pokes at them, nibbles at the edges, often saying no thank you until I can get her to actually try a bite. But put some music on and she’s out there swaying and swinging her hula hips with the best of them.

Funny how that works.

What food that says home to you?

Last week I slipped into the Twilight Zone. It was an ordinary day at my computer when my cell phone rang. I glanced at the screen and saw an 808 number—Hawaii! Don’t know the number, but maybe it’s somebody calling about the book!



Double-blink. The words were slurred and so fast and unexpected it took a minute for my brain to switch gears and recognize Pidgin.

“Barry? You want to talk to Barry?” Said way too haole.

Longer pause, then slower, “Get Barry dere?”

“I’m sorry. You have the wrong number.”


We hung up.

I sat staring at my phone for a minute wondering what the odds where that such a misconnection would happen, thinking of the long ago commercial where somebody trying to call across town ends up talking to someone on the beach in Fiji.

I bet he dialed 801 instead of 808. Or a joke? One of my old friends playing a joke? But they’d have said something, surely.

I’d made it to the living room holding my cell phone before it rang again. 808! Same number. Here we go!


“Um, can talk to Barry?”

“Eh, cuz, I tink you get da wrong numbah. You like talk Barry, yeah?”


“Barry stay Hawaii, yeah?”


“You calling Utah, brah. Dis one Utah numbah.”

“Utah? Fo’real?”

“Yeah, sorry.”

“Oh. Okay. T’anks.”

I hung up the phone and looked up the stairs to see my daughter standing there, mouth open and catching flies. “Who was that?”

“Barry’s friend. He like talk story.”


“Never mind. Wrong number.”

“Mom that was so funny! I never knew you could talk like that! So fast!”

“It’s Pidgin.”

“Why were you speaking Pidgin?”

“Because he was.”

“Say some more!”

My son came around the corner. “You mean you got a wrong number from Hawaii and the guy spoke Pidgin? What’s up with that?”

I laughed.

“Da-na-na-na, da-na-na-na,” he sang, the theme from The Twilight Zone.

Tell me about it. Wonder what Barry’s friend thought when he heard Kahului tita coming via Utah?

The Hunger Games movie opens this weekend. My kids and I been waiting for over a year to see how this story and characters transition to the screen, sighing or exclaiming over every casting choice and set design chronicled in Entertainment Weekly. Wanting to be surprised, my son has refused to watch any trailers and has resorted to sticking his fingers in his ears when the ads come on tv.

I just finished re-reading the series and fell in love with Suzanne Collins’s imagination and writing style all over again. Like all really good fiction, it’s a story that can be read on many levels. It’s a little unfortunate that the one generating the most buzz around the tween and teen sets is about the love triangle between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale.

This is particularly frustrating to Aaron, my 14-year-old son. “Did any of these people actually read the book? Team Peeta? Team Gale? Get real.”

Cheryl, my 12-year-old daughter agrees. “This is not about the boys. It’s not even about the girl and the boys. It’s about Katniss. I hope the movie doesn’t screw that up.”

Me too. While The Hunger Games is ultimately a story about love, it’s not about the kind of teenage puppy love that features so prominently in Young Adult fiction. Aloof and prickly Katniss loves deeply; it is her greatest strength and weakness; it is her weapon and her shield. The arch villains in the novel—Snow and Coin—don’t understand love and that ultimately leads to each of their downfalls. Snow fails to understand that “forbidden” love is the biggest form of rebellion and galvanization to action, and Coin, well, what can you say about someone who thinks marriage is no more than a new housing assignment? It’s an epic failure on both their parts to understand that what motivates Katniss is not power, political change, safety, or even fear of death. It’s love for those she calls family that motivates Katniss to greatness, that throws her into a spotlight she’d rather not seek. As Machiavellian as some of her actions are, it’s her underlying motivation of love for her family that elevate her character into a real three-dimensional personality and out of the clichés of so much of Young Adult fiction.

Katniss is a pawn, but a pawn with teeth and claws. She can be manipulated, yet also understands something of the dance of illusion versus reality she has to move through to survive in Panem. She wastes very little time bemoaning how unfairly life in the Districts compares with the Capitol. Collins is a master of showing the contrasts and letting the reader come to the logical conclusion. Katniss doesn’t deal with what should be; she deals with what is right in front of her, and this keeps the novels from bogging down into an Orwellian treatise on human nature while still developing much deeper themes than survival and teen romance.

I can’t recall another character in fiction quite like her. Team Katniss anyone?

Remember those timed reading tests in elementary school? At high tech Kahului Elementary in 2nd grade, I remember my teacher pushing play on a cassette tape and then watching me as I read aloud and moved my finger along the text, keeping pace with the voice on the cassette. She held bent soda bottle caps in her hands and each time you met one of the milestones, she’d set one down on your desk. When you had three you were done. In the spirit of those timed tests, here’s a link where you can check out your reading speed. Apparently I’m still above Diamond Head Lemon-Lime, but not yet to Shhtrawbarry. Bummahs!

  1. I already did the dishes.
  2. Frizzy? When you say frizzy I think Bozo the Clown. That’s not frizzy at all.
  3. What? That little thing? It’s so small I don’t think anyone noticed.
  4. A Lifetime movie? Sure, I’ll watch the game later.
  5. Wow, your toes are cold! Don’t go higher than my knees.
  6. I hung your laundry in the closet.
  7. I like it a little burnt.
  8. I’ll get up with the kids.
  9. I put new tires on your car.
  10. I saved the last one for you.

How does your significant someone say I love you? Happy Valentine’s Day!

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When you’re allergic to water,
growing up in Hawaii
isn’t always paradise.

With Niuhi sharks,
even out of the water,
you’re not safe.

Everything you thought you knew
about Zader is a  lie.