At Hunga Dunga, a birthday was always a special occasion. With so many people living at Big Blue, there were lots of special occasions. Add to that every conceivable holiday… national, religious, or fabricated at the spur of the moment… and you might say Hunga Dunga was one big celebration.
For a birthday, Psylvia and Ellen would bake beautiful cakes and potent brownies and the birthday boy or girl always got lots of gifts, usually hand-made trinkets or seldom-kept IOU promises of a blow job or the equivalent. As much as some may have liked to buy a store-bought present, you can’t buy a ticket to a Dead concert with food stamps (well, maybe you could) and our communal coffer of disposable income was a joke.
We pooled all our money and after our “accountant,” Little Richard, paid all the bills and put aside our meager daily allowances, we, as a family, decided how any remainder would be spent. In order to do that, we first needed to know what people wanted. We agreed that any instant gratification was highly unlikely, but that with patience, everyone’s “wants” could be fulfilled. After all, we had already satisfied every need, certainly we could fulfill the desires as well.
We also agreed that we shouldn’t be shy about wishing for “things” and to think big. That made most everyone want some time to think about it. But once we had decided on what we really wanted, we should let everyone else know. That was easier said than said.
Some of us felt uncortable asking for anything, trying to emulate what we knew to be true… “desirelessness is liberation,” though expressed in our usual flippant and comical Marx Brothers way. No one would be so highfalutin as to actually use those words, except maybe Baird. Others, like Lizzie, had no problems at all expressing his desire to go to Hawaii. Laura casually let everyone know exactly the loom she wanted and which woodworker made it. Bobby wanted a piano and kept dropping hints about where a good used Steinway was for sale. And Richard wanted “Land I tells ya, land!”
But some of us have trouble saying what we want, whether it be something tangible or something money can’t buy. I fell into the “uncomfortable” category, always having had difficulty in spitting out what I really wanted. And my birthday was the next one to come up. A matter of days. The Fourth of July. The year was 1971.
I always hated the 4th of July. My birthday seemed merely an after-thought instead of the primary focus of the day. So I wasn’t surprised when no one remembered it was, coincidentally, my birthday. In a way I was glad. I hated it when the focus was on me, though for some reason it often was. This time, however, there were so many things happening, so many inter-communal picnics, and so many bars having all-day specials, and so many skimpily clad bodies sunning themselves in Dolores Park right down the block, that this time, my birthday really was an after, after, after-thought.
There were so many distractions, even I forgot it was my birthday. So I was surprised when after dark, as we all gathered on the roof of the house to watch fireworks displays, I felt fingers reaching over my shoulder and handing me a gift-wrapped present. I turned around and saw Larry smiling at me and wishing me a happy birthday.
I unwrapped the thin gift. It was a card hand-made out of heavy stock. There was a magnet glued to the back and a picture of Oscar Wilde pasted on the front. Beneath the picture, it read:
“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
Oscar Wilde, 1854-1900
Phil’s Wish List
To the bottom of the card was stapled a bunch of drawn-and-quartered pieces of notebook paper, with large spaced lines like the paper first-graders use when learning to print. I loved it. Since I had trouble voicing what I wanted, I would use the written word. That was what I did best.
If and when I discovered what I wanted, I would write it down on this pad. I would fill those empty lines with my desires. I would do so at my leisure and deliberate carefully what it was I longed for. Maybe some observant soul would notice, and if possible, grant one of the wishes.
I confidently put my Oscar Wilde Refrigerator Note Pad on the refrigerator and turned in for the night, thinking about what to wish for. The next morning, Oscar Wilde was surrounded by 13 other notepads, most of them already filled out. I often caught fellow communards gleefully scratching something off their wish lists.
I encourage everyone to have a wish list and post it somewhere visible. Not all of us are good at “asking” for things. We are too subtle, our hints too obtuse. We are at fault, not them. But if I saw a friend’s wish list and I could grant them one that was within my budget or time, I would do my best to let them scratch one wish off their list thanks to me. I’d rather spend money on something I know they want than on a gift they could easily do without!
So in the tradition of Hunga Dunga, let your wishes be written down somewhere they can be readily found, so those that love you may try to make some of those wishes come true. At Hunga Dunga, no wish went unfulfilled.
Note: I still have the Oscar Wilde Refrigerator Notepad. I never wrote anything on it. But some mystery hippie did. He scribbled on the lines under Phil’s Wish List:
Be alone and not be lonely
Be myself and be here now
Smile more often
Have a belly laugh
I was able, with relative ease, to scratch off every one except the last. But I am sure it is on everyone’s wish list!