Monday, July 4, 2016

Fourth of July

I am sitting here at 10:30pm on July fourth in the year two thousand and sixteen. I am drinking some Sol in a small tumbler cup and through my curtains the neighborhood rooftops (I live in Bushwick) are still igniting the sky with fireworks.

It is the fourth of July and in America that is our independence day. It is a funny sort of holiday. It is for everyone and it has customs that seems to stick even in the face of the cliché and in the disparities of those who celebrate it.

It is the type of day in which you feel both obligated and relieved that you can participate in forms of recreation and signifiers that make you feel “American” and somehow a part of the a part-ness which surrounds you. In that vain I went to the beach today with friends. It was a perfect New York beach day. No traffic, lots of sun, clean water (which is very rare) and a collection of young and old beautiful bodies wanting to do the very same thing.

Hours laying on the sand in the sun and treating your body to an ancient but cheap form of spa treatment of salt and sand exfoliation leaves one feeling restive but sleepy. You look at the people around you. You look at your friends. You look at the ocean and you think ‘yes’ but also that ‘yes’ feels familiar and distant all at the same time. Or perhaps that’s just me. To be in the middle of a form of story feels too trite and sharp at the edges.

This day feels like other days, especially for someone like me who has a privileged joie de vivre, but then you remember that it is a holiday. Most people do not have off on Mondays and most people don’t make it a point to lie about and wear so much red white and blue.

Then evening comes and there are the barbecues. Those attended and those longingly observed. You see families, neighbors, groups of friends, commencing at fenced in cement allotments where a grill, bags of buns, plastic everything and the smoky iridescence of charred flesh makes you both salivate and queasy.

Then the darkness comes and the fireworks are to begin. I felt weary from just returning from a weekend in the Midwest (Milwaukee and Wisconsin) and my insides felt bleached out and raw from all of the dairy; cheese curds, ranch dressing, and cheese smeared everything. Plus the dose of belting sun and sand (and also my own escapist voyeurism of Spanish murder mystery dramas) left me unable to even contemplate finding an ‘ideal’ place to watch the fireworks.

Instead I stayed near to home on a rooftop and tried to preen to the East River to see the big shebang. I could see it, but barely. But that was okay because all around me was the neighborhood flare. Rooftops and street intersections in 360-degree turns were a bedlam of provincial might. Each area and display matching, topping, and competing with the next block, the next roof, the next small enclave.

There was a feeling of owning not only the streets but the sky. The displays were modest to impressive. The nearness, the danger, the smell of gunfire and sulfur and the closeness of these displays reminded me why I love fireworks in the first place. That seconds away from calamity that happens so quickly that you forget your body for a few seconds.

Fireworks are fire flowers. They bloom. You try to name them. Remember them and the ones you like linger with you and stay in your retinas like a song you forgot you loved. They are obviously like bombs, gunshots, a type of violence that most of us in our lives have luckily not had to endure but it literally triggers our animal brain to a terrified but also seduced state of fear, recollection and desire.

There is a feeling of anarchy, or at least a hint of it. This was probably more palpable because Bushwick is still predominantly Hispanic and the traditions of homelands concentrated here are still lived daily. Young people, mostly male, lighting off fuse after fuse of obviously illegal fireworks in the middle of intersections, on blocked zoned rooftops and also cycling down on sparkling, flaming makeshift shrines of fire. All this without a cop in sight. For this evening the night, the streets and the roofs belong to not the state but the people who are brave enough to revel against the blind eye.

As I was walking home and a blast exploded less then ten feet from me and left my heart racing in animal fear and my ears dull and muted by the blast I was shocked out my romantic revelry. ‘That thing could have fucking killed me’ was all I was thinking. And that made me aware of the truth to the danger of it all. But then I walked further and my ears could hear again and my heart stopped thumping involuntarily through my chest and I looked up at the sky. You can’t see the sky very well in places like Bushwick, in New York in general. But what you can see sometimes is the beautiful insanity of it and the need, and demand for some sanctified madness and beauty.