Excuse me, could you tell me whether you pronounce the 50th state Ha-wah-ee or Ha-vah-ee?
I have always thought of Hawaii that way—in flashes, a one-liner. Say Hawaii to anyone and sudden brief images wash over him: undulating grass skirts, Waikiki, Haleloke doing the hula on
, Arthur Godfrey strumming the ukulele, Duke Kawhatshisname swimming, From Here to Eternity, surfing, leis and Sugarloaf—which is actually in Rio de Janeiro, but which I have always confused with Diamond Head, which looms over Honolulu. Never mind; you get the picture. Aloha.
It is not surprising that Hawaii is so popular. At a time when theme parks are all the rage, Hawaii is the biggest theme park in the world. Theme parks are amusement parks with an identifying gimmick. To wit, Disney World, or Opryland in Nashville, which celebrates country music. Nashville itself used to perform this function, but now Opryland has been built to pull it off, with an entrance fee. Ultimately, there will be the ultimate theme park, Worldland: the African veldt will be over here, and hard by it, separated by a replica of the Berlin Wall, will be The Best of Westminster Abbey. Worldland will be ideal for Americans because no one will have to worry about going anywhere to see the world, or about un-English tongues, un-American currency and "the water."
In the meantime, Hawaii is the best we have of theme parks. Aloha.
Hawaii, you see, is perfect. Officially it is every bit as American as Evansville, Ind. or Greater San Jose—those little beige people can vote and get into Diners Club, just like you and me. But it doesn't seem American. Hey, present company excepted, not really. The people are different sizes and colors and they wear funny clothes. There's a toy language and live volcanoes and special music being played all the time. I took my first trip to Hawaii well before Christmas, but I always felt it was Christmas because Hawaiian music is played constantly, like Christmas carols in season. Aloha.
It is all indoctrination, which we undergo at the age of channelization, which is when we learn to recognize 1 through 13. By the time anyone actually arrives at Hawaii, the place is already constructed in the mind. It is propaganda. "Hey, we been working at this for 50 years," says the Hawaiian Visitors Bureau man, with a devilish smile. That which has lain in the mind for years is brought to a fever pitch by the airlines even before you arrive. Departure lounges, thousands of miles away, are done up in Hawaiian decor. The stewardesses wear Hawaiian muumuus, the stewards aloha shirts. There are Hawaiian place mats, Hawaiian pineapples, something dreadful named Aloha Punch. There is, of course, Hawaiian music. There are macadamia nuts. On United, you are given seven, in the same sort of triangular packet that usually contains a "non-dairy creamer," whatever, pray God, that may be. I love macadamia nuts, but just for the record, do not travel to Hawaii under the impression you can load up on them there cheaply. If anything, macadamia nuts cost even more in Hawaii. Aloha.
Even on the plane they start saying aloha. The only thing in Hawaii that comes cheap is aloha. If you have any sensitivity, you will come to shudder at those three little syllables. But it is a magic word, the key to the kingdom, the ticket to all the rides in the theme park, to Waikiki and luaus and Don Ho, to Mai Tais, the hula and Sugarloaf. In the old days aloha had help. It had the leis, which everybody got right after the boat docked, and you threw coins in the water for the "natives" to pretend to retrieve. But now, the boats are gone, the jumbo jets disgorge tourists at a dizzying rate, and the only ones who rate leis are members of tourist groups who are prepaid. Aloha.