BY J. ARTHUR RATH III – He wrote about living in Hawaii “In A Banyan Tree, Dream House, Vagabond House, and Aloha House.” While doing so, Don Blanding (1894-1957), gained the sobriquet of “Hawaii’s Poet Laureate.” Waikiki was then a one-piece bathing suit place—whereas contemporary suits give new meaning to the phrase “hanging out.”
Blanding expressed external modesty and internal torrid thinking in the persona of “The Virgin of Waikiki,” a then 1926 resident of my contemporary neighborhood:
“With a vision clear she saw how drear
Was this virtue that she’d been shielding,
And she longed for the charms of a lover’s arms
And the joys of nearly yielding.”
Blanding was Hawaii’s famous poet before the “famous real thing”– W. S. Merwin who lives in a Maui forest. Merwin is the current United States poet-laureate. Blanding privately printed 100 copies of his original 13-page book about the Waikiki virgin. In a later version he included his inimitable art black and white art of island scenes, shadow plates and outlined drawings: Just scenes though—no Virgin’s visions.
In a 1928 local newspaper article Blanding wrote suggesting a holiday centered on the Hawaiian custom of making and wearing a lei. Fellow writer Grace Tower Warren came up with the phrase “May Day is Lei Day,” and a year later the official yearly Territorial, then State, holiday began.
Lei Day is now every day in contemporary Waikiki. Scores of folks wearing them in ubiquitous places such as the Starbucks coffee and crullers shop I frequent. I guess at visitors’ origins as many yell in foreign languages at faces on the screens of their plugged-in laptop PCs. They come to Starbucks for electrical connections and pep from caffeine. They raise their voices on cell phone calls (to be heard at long distance). Tourism enthusiasm as well as coffee may add to zestful speed to their speech
The Hawaii Tourist Bureau successfully attracts varied visitors, many of whom wear lei! Along with American slanguage and dialect, you can overhear Japanese, German and voices from those wearing a turban, and Italians and Hispanics speaking quickly, excitedly, so animatedly. (Not able to understand the various tongues is akin to experiencing being at the Tower of Babel–Genesis 11,1-9.
Upstairs in Lulu’s Restaurant and Bar, many young American girls enthusiastically approve of being where they are. I hear some saying “Like” in most every sentence—meaning they like being in my hometown! Some ultra religious ones express fealty with “Oh My God”–equally as often. I think they are expressing awe.
About a hundred yards away, on second floor, is “Hula’s, called “The Most Beautiful Gay Bar in the World. That’s because of its scenery and ocean views. Walking by on the sidewalk below you’ll hear both happy male and female chatter and gay laughter floating in the breeze. Its sounds like Provincetown, R.I., during the peak summer season, but is year-around in Waikiki!
If told often enough over a period of time, in Hawaii “apocrypha” becomes true. It’s why Blanding wrote of joy both realized and imagined that’s now established. In the Twentieth-First Century lei day is “every day out here.”
(Deeply affected by the fall of Bataan, Don Blanding enlisted in U.S. Army during World War II at age 47. His dream houses and some of the other things he wrote about were imaginary, the way I view Menehune.)