Here in America we’re celebrating our day of independence from that horrible colonial power — Great Britain. Which, of course, is currently in a retrenchment, like a turtle pulling its head back into its shell. Hello Brexit! I find it fascinating that the leaders of the Brexit movement have all announced that they are leaving their positions. As though they realize the mess they have created. Somebody else can clean it up.
But I digress.
When I was a kid, I lived in a nice little suburban neighborhood in East Sacramento. We celebrated the 4th the way I imagine Americans across the country did. Well, at least in places where fireworks were legal. Barbecues and get-togethers followed by fireworks in the street. The kind that were legal. The kind that were safe. And sane.
Yes, of course, there were boys who traveled the neighborhoods with their firecrackers and bottle rockets and occasional M-80s. They set them off surreptitiously and then ran. It was what the teenage boys did behind the scenes without approval. And if adults found them, caught them in the act, there was hell to pay.
I remember being terrified of one of those bottle rockets — essentially a fire cracker attached to a stick and stuck in a bottle so that it went up in the air and exploded somewhere up there — landing on the roof of our house. Or anybody else’s house really.
Then, I grew up. In my 20s, after I met the woman who would become my wife, I celebrated the 4th for a few years with the group of friends I met through her. The bottle rockets had got much bigger. And I remember one 4th, when one of those rockets up into the air and then went sideways and then went off at ground level in the backyard of a neighbor’s house. I can still see the light of the explosion that shone through the windows of that house. And I remember the friend who was the ringleader of the fireworks who laughed without a care in the world.
Fast forward a few more years and we’ve bought our first house and started to grow our family. We lived in a court, with a lot of other young families. We had great barbecues on the 4th. People would wheel their barbecues down to the inner end of the court, we’d eat and drink and as the sun went down everybody would bring out their legal fireworks and we would put on a show for the kiddies. There were several of us dads who would light the fireworks, setting off two or three at a time for maximum enjoyment. I was the dad running around out there in my bare feet. Lighting fireworks and then stepping back.
Dreading and enjoying every moment of it. I have a love-hate relationship with all things fire. I grew up on a street where the houses across the street backed up to a field. Many summers, that field went up in flames. I can still see the fire reaching to the sky behind those homes and being terrified. Fire is one of those things I just fear. At a level like no other of my fears. But I’m fascinated by the thing. And when we had kids, I wanted them to experience the joys of these things, while also showing them responsible behavior.
About a dozen years ago we moved from that court filled with young families and responsible neighbors to another court barely a mile down the road. The sense of community and family that existed there was gone. And a handful of years ago somebody moved in down the street and around the corner. They host a party every 4th of July that goes beyond all that is reasonable for a suburban residential neighborhood. Which I’ll get back to in a moment.
The other thing that happened over the last few years was that we typically spent the 4th at a friend’s house. Barbecuing, swimming, and setting off the legal stuff. But that has dwindled a bit and I’ve tended to be home on the 4th the last year or two. And again this year. What I’ve discovered in those years is that our neighborhood sounds like a war zone from about 9:00 until well past midnight. Illegal fireworks everywhere. Not just M-80s, but also the kind of fireworks that shoot up into the sky. A few years ago, one of those fireworks landed on the roof of a house that is about 1/2 mile from our house. Needless to say there was a fire and the residents of that house didn’t move back in for months afterwards. It amazes me how much illegal activity goes on in our neighborhood on the 4th. Illegal behavior that places everybody in the neighborhood at risk.
Which leads me to the people who live down the street and around the corner. They host this party. Hundreds come. They have big screen TVs apparently. Flags everywhere. Porta-potties for the guests. And an elevated platform for shooting off all sorts of fireworks that shoot into the sky. In a residential neighborhood full of houses. I’m told they get a permit for this. And if they do, there’s a fundamental problem with the permit process in the county I live in. This kind of party should not be allowed in a residential neighborhood.
What the 4th of July, our independence day, has become for me is this monumental exercise in “if I can do it, I’m going to do it. If I believe I have the right to this, than I’m going to do it.” There is no regard for neighbors. No regard for the risks that are created by this. It is simply — I want to do it, I’m gonna do it. And if I’ve got a problem with it, it’s because I’m a stick in the mud, a wimp, an unpatriotic American.
On a local community website, I posted my opinion about this party — that it demonstrated the hosts’ lack of respect for their neighbors. For that, of course, my patriotism was attacked. Because, you know, nothing says America like setting off illegal explosives in our neighborhoods!
The reality is that I really don’t like too many holidays anymore. Thanksgiving. Bah. It’s all about gorging on food — most of which I don’t like. Christmas/Hanukah — it’s all about materialism that masks our inability to treat each other with love and respect the rest of the year. But they pale in comparison to the 4th. This is a holiday that has become particularly odious because the actions of those who demand their right to celebrate endanger all of us.
I wish it was another way. In my ideal world, we would celebrate our day of independence by remembering our responsibilities as citizens and neighbors. Yeah, that’ll never happen.