Sunday, July 3, 2011

Fourth of July (2007)

Note: The following trifle is entitled "Fourth of July (2007)," because that's what inspired it, and that's when it was written.

Ahh, 2007! Few outside of Alaska had ever heard of Sarah Palin! After writing this item I read it to a writer's group I then participated in. At least one person was offended – unjustifiably, I think, but offended nonetheless. So naturally I want it to appear again, if only as a blog post no one reads.

Fourth of July festivities in my town were nearly cancelled this year. Wind-whipped rain of unexpected ferocity began falling about half an hour before the fireworks were supposed to begin, forcing dozens of people to huddle under the meager protection of a small pavilion. Many more were left out in the rain.

The weather had been pleasant enough when Caroline and I left the house. Soon after arriving at the park, though, the wind began picking up and storm clouds loomed. We were among the lucky few to get beneath that shelter. 

After forty-five minutes the rain began slacking off and we said fuck it, let's go home, no way will they do the fireworks tonight. Even if it stops raining, we figured, the ground is so soaked no one will hang around. So we unlocked our bikes and started pedaling home through what by then was only a light rain.

Not long after we got back, the boom boom boom of exploding fireworks began.

So we missed the display. Or rather, we missed it up close: we could still see it from our upstairs bathroom window.

I didn’t bother watching, though. I’ve never really liked the Fourth of July. I don’t much care for anything you can’t opt out of if you are so inclined, and the Fourth falls into that category. Death, taxes, and Fourth of July fireworks. And Christmas, and...

Caroline, on the other hand, enjoys everything about the Fourth: spreading a blanket on the grass, sipping wine beneath an evening sky, meeting up with friends, watching the light show. She has accepted that my participation is at best grudging and that I’m perfectly content to stay home.

Simply stated, I’ve had too many restful nights disturbed by the Fourth. Not just by fireworks displays, which are loud enough as it is, but also by firecrackers, and the irresponsible idiots of all ages who blow them off late into the night – usually starting in the days leading up to Independence Day and going for several days thereafter. I even hated firecrackers when I was a kid, a fact that dumbfounded my peers.

Now, with the United States engaged in foreign wars, the idea of the rockets’ red glare as entertainment strikes me, more than ever, as obscene. War, after all, is nothing more than totally fucked up foreign policy. And the Fourth of July is the pageantry of war: jingoism glamorizing the spectacle while ignoring the human suffering – the blood spurting from mangled stumps that once were arms or legs, the dead or defiled children, the families destroyed and the infrastructures devastated. (This last is the least important item on a short but sickening list.)

When Caroline and I lived in California there was an air show originating at a nearby Air Force base. The show covered so large a geographical area that a park a few blocks from our apartment was a good place to watch it from. The highlight of the show was the Blue Angels, that elite squadron that flies amazingly coordinated maneuvers.

It was a sight I shall never forget: six or seven of these Angel jets zooming over the big park. My memory is probably playing tricks on me but I recollect these jets screaming along at an altitude of only twenty-five or thirty feet.

Most of the thousands of spectators oohed and ahhed, but I was horrified. All I could see was napalm fireballs trailing in their wake. My senses were overwhelmed by the nauseating smell of burning flesh and the agonized screams of collateral damage.

All in my imagination, of course. But as with fireworks displays, this hardware of war, its matériel, was stripped of its true meaning and presented as entertainment.


2011 postscript: Caroline says I should lighten up. Happy Fourth!

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