…Where at Least I Know I’m Free
Due to the events of the past year, I’ve been giving a lot of thought about how I should spend the Fourth of July. Now I’ve always been a leftist wingnut Commie bastard who considers my personal dissent and disgust with the status quo a form of high patriotism, and have been rambling these viewpoints to anyone within earshot for as long as I can remember, and in print since I cut my teeth at the junior high school paper.
That disgust doubled when Junior stole an election and went to Washington, and has multiplied exponentially because of his actions in pushing for, and eventually fighting, Operation Iraqi Freedom, the single most insidiously-named military action of all time. It grows each day with the continued occupation of that country and not-so-idle threats at thrown carelessly at other nations.
In fact, since last Fourth, I’m proud to say I’ve taken my first steps as a physical activist rather than just an intellectual one, and this year I participated, as I’d always wanted to but hoped to never have to, in a number of antiwar demonstrations. I’ve been spit at, flipped off, cussed out and degraded because of it, and that’s just fine with me. It goes hand in hand with being part of the opposition, and when the world’s gone totally fucking nuts I’m proud to oppose it.
With that said, how do I plan to spend my 4th of July?
Drinking copious amounts of liquor, gnawing on some sweet-ass barbecue and blowing shit up.
My friends and family have already planned a big shindig that I’d be a fool, not to mention a total jerk, to miss. Granted, I’m compiling a bitchin’ comp. to torture the eardrums and rile up my more conservative acquaintances, and they’re likely to hear — time and time again — just exactly how I feel about the state of the Union, But I won’t go so far as to deny them my company, pleasant as it is.
Which brings us to the point of this installment of my column and a larger introduction to the column as a whole. Jeffrey needed a little decadence and debauchery to balance out his otherwise respectable magazine, and who better to call than everyone’s Dirty Uncle Ken, depository of tales so tawdry as to make a two-dollar Tijuana trollop blush.
This particular installment is not too blue, it’s got some red and white to balance it out. With the 4th of July rivaling only Halloween and Thanksgiving (yeah, I got a fucked-up family) as a night of devilish merrymaking among my circle of cohorts. Deciding what I should do to ring in the Great Satan’s birthday (that reference is, of course, facetious — once again, as a patriot, I agree with the tenets this nation was founded on, save the racist and misogynistic ones) has prompted me to remember Fourth of Julys and related days past.
One of my most vivid memories was when I was 19 and living in Orange County. It was evening, and we were well into a day-long drunk when I got a call from my brother (at the time also my boss) to say that he was sorry, but he needed me to work in the morning. He said go ahead and keep doing what I was doing, that it was his own fault for not telling me earlier.
5:30 a.m. comes awful early on the 5th of July. We had to plant about 20 signs on the side of the freeway, which entails some hardcore manual labor. He’d rented a two-man auger for the job. Ever run a two-man auger? The vibrations tear your hands to hamburger and rattle and stretch every muscle and sinew in your body `til it feels like Jello. The auger only works when the soil is free of rocks and other obstructions, in which case you have to use posthole diggers and a digging bar — an even more undesirable option than trying to tame the auger. Lugging around 16-foot four-by-fours is no cup of tea either. Add to all that a severe hangover bordering on alcohol poisoning and a particularly punishing sunny southern California day – about 100 degrees, significantly hotter standing on an asphalt shoulder – and needless to say my brother and I, never much of a teetotaler himself, spent equal time puking and digging.
At the end of the day he thanked me:
“Thanks for working today man, I know how patriotic you are.”
The last two Fourths have been especially great, and that’s about as far back as I remember (I must reiterate, they’ve all been great times, so I remember few of them).
Two years ago I chose the Fourth for one of my rare, triumphant returns to my hometown of Redding, Calif. Growing up there, we’d spend every Fourth atop these beautiful red bluffs above the Sacramento River. It’s far from the hubbub of the Convention Center, where the fireworks are launched, but offers a superb view, and the cops don’t fuck with you there. This was the first time I went down into the proverbial shit of Redding’s (Reddin’ in the colloquial dialect) “Freedom Festival.” Whooo-weee, lemme tell you. I bore witness there to some hardcore redneck shit, parts of my childhood I had long-since suppressed memories of, like whole families with matching mullets. The stereo system kept looping this hilarious advertisement for an upcoming concert, the Shasta Summer Jam, featuring (affect best monster truck commercial voice) Night Ranger and Survivor. In the Year of Our Lord Two-Thousand-fucking-one! And people were going apeshit, singing along to sound clips of “Sister Christian” and “Eye of the Tiger.”
Here’s another Fourth-related story from my youth. I used to run with a gang of James’s – dudes named James that we had to distinguish one another from with nicknames. So there was Army James (A.K.A. Crazy James), so named because he was crazy and had done time in the army before getting kicked out on a Section 8 or some shit – I think what didn’t work for Klinger did for him, and they discharged his cross-dressing ass. We also had Drunk James, a raging alcoholic, and Black James, thus called because he was black, of course. So Black James’ white-trash acquaintance has this great idea that they’d go to the aforementioned bluff the day after the Fourth, gather up all the beer cans and make a million dollars recycling them – it seemed like a failsafe deadbeat scheme and James jumped at the chance.
James wandered a little to close to the edge and it gave way, sending him plummeting a few hundred feet down. He’s lucky he wasn’t killed. As he lay bleeding and broken at the bottom the man with the plan ran over and screamed, “James, James, you alright? Did you fall all the way down?” James, always at the top of his game, replied in a low steady voice, “Yeah mothafucka, I’m just fine, and no I didn’t fall all the way. I’m about half way down, just hovering.” James cohort, for whatever reason, refused to go for help, so James, badly in need of stitches, bruised, bloodied and missing whole huge patches of hair, started to climb back up. About halfway up he fell again. He eventually made it all the way and, I can’t say I remember correctly, but hopefully, beat the guy’s ass.
Years of us, uh, digging holes on July 5th – and about 360 other days of the year — have put my brother Chris in a pretty good financial situation. So on a recent cross-country trip in his RV, he bought several hundred dollars worth of fireworks – and I mean real fuckin’ Disneyland aerial display fireworks – in some assbackwards state where such things are legal and readily available. So he brought the arsenal over to my friend Ian’s house in an upper-middle class tract of suburban Murrieta. Ian set up the loudest amp he could find outside his second-story bedroom window and cranked it to eleven, outfitted our friend Johnny Sixstring with a wireless and we got down to some serious motherfuckin’ patriotism. So we’re hammered, launching shit that could get us put to death in post-Sept. 11th outta full-blown mortar tubes while Johnny’s ripping through a 20-minute long Hendrix-esque rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Of course, the cops show up and threaten us with a $500 fine if they see any more fireworks in our area. We denied any involvement, but the smell of gunpowder, spent charges littering the road and the large crowd that had gathered across the street to watch our display kinda gave us away. Chris looked them dead in the face and said, “Shit, can I just pay the fine now?”
Another of my favorite stories doesn’t take place on the Fourth of July, but rather the 24th, and doesn’t involve alcohol … I think I can honestly say it was my last sober holiday. It was the summer of my 14th year and my two nephews — who are just a few years younger than me — and I were staying with my Dad in the barely-there community of Fairview, Utah. Now in Utah they don’t really celebrate the Fourth much, but save it up for a week-long celebration that builds up to the 24th, the day Brigham Young stood over the desert and salt-flat wastes of the Great Salt Valley and declared it the Promised land.
Unfortunately we missed the kickoff parade, but managed to catch most of the other festivities. We hit the rodeo one night, and I can honestly say it was one of the funniest things I ever saw … actually more surreal than anything. It started with two girls entering the arena on horses, carrying American flags. Being no stranger to rodeo (as mentioned earlier, I did grow up in Reddin’) I knew it was the time that everyone usually stood up for the national anthem. Everyone rose to their feet and took off their “These Colors Don’t Run or Burn” hats as the chords to a familiar tune started … Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American.” No shit. These crazy Mormon patriots had tears in their eyes. I wonder how much of America actually believe that song to be the national anthem. About an hour into the rodeo some 12-year-old girl on a huge black horse comes out to, I dunno, race around barrels or rope clowns or something. The horse and rider come through the gate, saunter about 20 feet, and the horse keels over, dead. An ambulance came rushing in. We had to sit there watching them fuck with this poor dead horse for like an hour while they rigged up some pulley system to drag the thing onto a flatbed trailer. When the horse was all loaded and leaving the arena, everyone stood and clapped, tears in their eyes for the second time of the evening. I’m still haunted by the memory.
But the best night, by far, was the last. The well-groomed, tight packed rodeo flat was replaced with tons of mud for the penultimate white trash spectacle. Well, at least up there with monster trucks and tractor pulls — the great demolition derby. Woo-hoo. The whole town was out in full force. The night kicked off with fireworks. The “technicians” obviously lacked any real experience, and the “oohs” and “ahhs” one usually hears when watching fireworks were replaced with screams of pure terror as badly-aimed missiles careened over audience members and exploded so close we were showered in sparks. Ten minutes into the most-exciting fireworks display since the Tet Offensive it was cut short … when a misfired explosive whizzed about six feet over our heads, turned and dove into a dry field, causing an immediate brushfire. We spent the rest of the night watching a ’72 LTD rip AMC’s whole ’79 production line apart like so many flaming aluminum cans while basking in the heat of an uncontrolled brush fire raging 100 feet away while the good old boys whooped it up all around.
God bless America.