Usually, my inner child whoops it up on the Fourth of July. The smell of backyard barbecues and gunpowder, red, white and blue everything, screeching of Piccolo Petes, and a grand finale of showers of rainbow sparks lighting up the black sky — how can you not love that? Even though they have wimpy sparklers nowadays, rather than those classic sizzling, golden Red Devils, I still love this holiday.
This year, I was ready to get my party on, but somewhere between the call from a friend who just lost her house to foreclosure and the call from my son, who just lost his job, I lost interest.
In between those phone calls, we visited with friends and made a perfect little Fourth of July barbecue of pork ribs and potato salad for two, and listened to the pops and fizzles going off in the neighborhood, ignited by kids who just can’t wait until dark (read: the dads). Life was good.
Except that one of our friends just lost her home.
After dinner, with still a lot of daylight to burn before the fireworks, so we settled in for a rerun of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” to kill a little time, and just as Captain Jean-Luc Picard was negotiating with the aliens that had commandeered the Enterprise, I got the call from my boy.
He was all wrapped around the axle, informing me that his plans to move back to Winters and start his own business had fallen through, and he’d have to stay in San Luis Obispo and figure out how to stretch his unemployment to cover his rent until he devised Plan B. And if no such plan emerges by the time his unemployment runs out, he’ll probably end up living in his truck at the beach.
Wow. My son finally developed my peculiar ability to fast-forward to the worst case scenario. I was hoping that gene was going to skip a generation. I reminded him that he’s never truly homeless, that there’s always my couch, but he informed me that that option was even less appealing than sleeping with the surfers.
Despite the sudden shakeup of plans, he and his friend were trying to salvage the evening and were heading for the SLO pier to see fireworks. By the time we hung up, it was dark enough to head over to see fireworks ourselves, but all my Fourth of July mojo had been siphoned away by worry. Suddenly, watching bombs bursting in air seemed like one big, fat “meh.” However, forcing myself to go anyway seemed like a better choice than marinating in worry, so we set off for the high school football field and settled onto the grass just as the first pink and gold starburst exploded overhead.
Winters being Winters, no fireworks display worth its weight in gun powder would be complete without cheesy patriotic music being blasted from the grandstand (note to fireworks committee: no, really, it would). The bouncy John Philip Sousa marches segued into triple-cheese country. “I’m Proud to be an American” oozed through the loudspeaker, and several cheese-lovers nearby started singing along in the usual way — fumbling the lyrics but nailing the “Stand Up!” line every time. At that particular moment, I found that song even more irritatingly cloying than ever.
The sappy lyrics were giving me huge cognitive dissonance: “Proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.” Free to do what, exactly… struggle mightily to get by, and then lose your job or your house, or both? My friend and my son are just two of thousands. Wall Street gets bailed out and hums along nicely, while those who lost their homes because of their schemes struggle from paycheck to paycheck. Assuming they’re lucky enough to have a paycheck. Those who boast about being the Job Makers neglect to mention that the jobs are predominantly made overseas. Are we really free, or is it just a pretty illusion, like all the little American flags made in China waving on every other front lawn?
Am I really proud to be an American? Well, yes, I think so, but…
Well, I’m proud of that guy over there in the tattered baseball cap, and that grandma on her old lawn chair, and this little girl sitting next to me, belting out “Stand Up!” right on cue if not on key, but…
And then it hit me. I’m proud of America. I’m just not proud of our so-called “leaders” and the direction they’re taking us, and that means all of them, Republicans and Democrats alike. Politicians. They’re the ones destroying the Fourth of July sentiment. What is there to be proud of? There’s not an ounce of true patriotism in a ton of politicians. No genuine love of country, or true American spirit, just greed, lust for power and self-serving manipulation. Every word, every action is choreographed to help win the next election.
Healthcare, jobs, abortion, war — these aren’t issues to politicians. They’re reelection tools.
Didn’t we learn in school that there’s no “me” in U.S. — just “us”? That’s become about as hokey and precious as sappy-sweet country warbling.
Proud to be an American. Am I? Hmmm. I’m proud of all the people who lock their front doors for the last time and walk away in tears. I’m proud of all the people scraping by on unemployment or jobs that barely pay enough to cover the bills because all the good jobs have been outsourced to India and China. I’m proud of the people riding on firetrucks, and coaching Little League, teaching kindergarteners to spell “cat,” and volunteering at a soup kitchen, pulling on soldier’s boots every morning, and the old, the young, the sick and the just plain tired. Proud of every damn one of them.
I’m just not proud of the people who “lead” them.
— Email Debra at firstname.lastname@example.org; read more of her work at www.wintersexpress.com and www.edebra.com