Fireworks

We stretched the Fourth of July into a three-day marathon of quality time with quality friends this year, and the occasion once again served as a reminder that America is The Greatest Country in the World, but only if it happens to contain a micro-world composed of loved ones and personal memories and neat things that happens to mean more to you than any of those found in other countries. Subtracting arbitrary personal significance, I think you can still call America a Good Idea, but the America they built is in urgent need of some foundation repair, and, apt as that metaphor feels, I’m not sure that’s actually a thing that’s possible with a country. It’s definitely not in the Yellow Pages.

Our weekend included a trip to the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, a redwood forest outside Santa Cruz rich in restorative minus ions, and which bests the more widely-spoken-of Muir Woods in my book any day, since it’s guaranteed less crowded and less chilly at all times, yet contains trees of equally impressive girth and majesty. I am grateful that the Good Idea of America was built on top of a landscape that includes such refuges of beauty and tranquility, although my pleasure is lessened by the persistent thought that the land was hijacked by means of mass murder, that even in year one the execution of the Idea was fatally tarnished by the dark nature of man.

That said, I was delighted to see so many squirrels among the redwoods. They are fascinating creatures and cute, and we are lucky to call them commonplace in our home. Other forests in other countries might only have unimpressive birds or mice.

I’m also grateful that there are organizations in place to facilitate the preservation of these refuges, and the infrastructure to visit them. But I am again troubled, now by the persistent thought that the people who are the offspring of this our Good Idea have elected to weaken these organizations and stifle the effort to preserve our refuges and, by and by, all the rest of the places on Earth. And now I am troubled even more by the thought that actually, we elected no such thing, not by the numbers, and maybe this is no execution of the Good Idea at all.

Well, at least for the time being we still have such refuges to help us clear our heads of the thoughts they put in our heads. The state park was very nice.

Later there was barbecue—so much barbecue—and fresh homemade sangria, and interesting beer, and fun times with old friends. And I thought how great it is to live in a place that has fun summer traditions like barbecue (troubling though it is to consider the horrors spawned by our culture’s overreliance on meat), and where one also has easy access to interesting beers (though one may be dubbed a hipster or snob or even yes a faggot for appreciating them), and where one might well find oneself united in national pride with a roomful of people almost exclusively descended from 20th-century stowaway immigrants who were given a second chance regardless of their criminal records (though depending on the room, some of those people might now decry those very policies which allowed them to exist, and some people in some rooms might even turn away visitors from certain parts of the world).

Well, no place is perfect. You wouldn’t believe how hard it was to find anything besides a lager in Japan.

After the barbecue, we headed into town to watch the big fireworks display. What a great tradition. Yes, lots of other countries (all of them?) have fireworks displays, but for us these displays hold great symbolism. They represent the bombs and rockets which freed us from oppression at the hands of tyrants, some of us, and yes, it’s troubling to think that, like a legacy of child abuse passed down from one generation to the next, oppression and tyranny were not cured, but instead became recurring themes in our new nation’s narrative, as did bombs for that matter, but there was one firework that looked like Saturn, and another like a smiley face, and another like a sideways heart. <3︎

We watched the display from the top floor of a downtown parking garage. We thought we were so clever, but it turned out to be a popular viewing spot crowded with families tailgating out of SUVs and pickup trucks and teenagers perched precariously on the walls overlooking a three-story drop. This was a nice surprise and did a lot to create a sense of unity amongst strangers bound only by their shared American pride. At least, until one of the roof-goers saw fit to blast “God Bless the U.S.A.” by Lee Greenwood out of his pickup truck speakers and numerous people in the vicinity groaned and criticized in unabashed outdoor voices.

Yeah, I hate that song. And I hate the impetus some dudes have to impose their freedom on the rest of us. The problem with being a nation obsessed with freedom is that one man’s freedom easily becomes the next man’s burden. To say nothing of the next woman. But I don’t know, I guess it’s not nice to openly smack-talk a guy just for being loud and proud. Then again, those who did so had every right to, just as he had the right to blast his song. And the rule of thumb here seems to be, “If you can, you should.” I guess I still find this jarring since it’s so firmly at odds with the prevailing rule of thumb in Japan, which is, “Apologize.” Did I feel less “free” in Japan? Hell yes. But then I wasn’t a citizen, and I was a minority. Did I feel less “free” in Japan than the average minority American feels in America? I wouldn’t bet on it. I also felt 10000000000 times safer than I’ve ever felt here. But hell, they sure are stuck on lagers.

The fireworks were very nice. There was a moment when none of us were talking, just all watching those neon flowers erupt in the sky, and I looked at my high school friend’s little toddler, who was enjoying her first-ever glimpse of this spectacular tradition with eyes like billiard balls, and in that moment I knew a sort of giant peace. Like I was riding on some enormous ball soaring through the universe, watching the universe and all existence go by like scenery.

The feeling lingered throughout the spectacle, lingered afterward as we sat in the breeze watching the people return into their cars and the cars funnel clumsily out of the garage, and lingered still as my friends and I, now almost alone on the garage rooftop, finally detached from the wall where we’d perched and started to head back to our own cars, and lingered right up until the boom, which was ten times louder and one hundred times closer than any of the hundreds of booms which had preceded it, which seemed to have originated right beneath our feet, and which echoed now through the garage like the ominous tolling of a bell.

The next moment was ice cold as the six adult brains among us all too readily switched gears from festivity to fright, almost as though the fright had never left but merely lay covered underneath a thin blanket, as though part of each of us had been quietly bracing for a real boom, the kind that might one day be symbolized by someone else’s firework at some other strange festivity. I know this is what happened because I saw five frozen faces which matched my own. I leaned down to one side to get a look deeper into the garage and perked my eardrums for sounds of mayhem, and as I did so I felt very small, like an ant on a hill easily stamped out, forgotten, and replaced by what ants remained.

The reverberating growl faded and the garage returned to calm as a thin haze of sulphuric smoke wafted through Floor 2 and out its vent-like gaps, and though the smoky breeze carried on it the faint sound of young laughter, a chill lingered on the roof. From the looks on our faces, it was clear that the toddler was the only one among us at peace.

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