1. It's been three weeks now, and I still haven't gotten over it. Missing the 4th of July means missing the peak of the summer. For me, there's a build-up there, then a long slow decline into the fall. Most years, there are vacations and good times that follow the 4th, but when you stand in the dark and watch those fireworks, there's a kind of invincibility against all things that takes hold, and the greatest feeling of invincibility of all is the feeling that the summer will never end. That's the 4th of July for me. When the 5th comes, that feeling is gone. And when I don't celebrate the 4th, as I didn't this year, the whole mental preparation for the flow of the summer is missing.
2. This sounds elitist, and I don't mean it to be, but if you are not born and raised in a country, it's got to be very, very difficult to get that country in your blood. In one way, life for an American is all of the events, large and small, that occur while you are part of the national experience--for me during those formative years, it ranges from the Pirates winning the 1960 World Series (0ne of my earliest memories is my dad watching the games) to the JFK assassination and the other '60's assassinations to all of the NASA emphasis culminating in the moon landing and Woodstock to the Moratorium when I was in high school and didn't understand why students were wearing black armbands and refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance to the rumors that Paul McCartney was really dead and deconstructing the songs in the high school cafeteria to the Steelers 4 Super Bowls and seeing Led Zeppelin in that same stadium to Watergate and knowing intuitively that there was something wrong with the man we were electing president. If you live outside America, you believe that the Dallas Cowboys are/were "America's Team." It reminds me of a live Graham Parker CD where he's talking about Russians before the fall of the Iron Curtain. Over there, he says, they think Billy Joel is a rock and roll singer. Ouch.
3. One of our last days in Korea, we noticed the Korean flag posted on streets everywhere. Tommy asked several people what they were for. "Oh, they're for Foundation Day," people would tell us, "It used to be a holiday, but the government cancelled it last year because they thought we had too many holidays." What? I repeat, what? A cancelled holiday? Who decides there are too many holidays? If you had to give up a holiday, which one would it be? Don't go for Arbor Day; that's too easy a target.
4. The 4th of July also means music. I always think first of lying on my back watching the fireworks at Engel Stadium and them playing Bruce Springsteen singing Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" with no understanding that it was written as a protest and it not really mattering. I have written in other posts of some of my 4th of July favorites, but over in Korea, it was that same Bruce Springsteen who seemed to capture America the best. As we sat in our "managed residence" high above Seoul, I played some songs that captured America for me. When it came my roommate's turn, he immediately chose a song by the great German band, the Scorpions. Now, I've got nothing against the Scorpions, in fact, they rock me like a hurricane, but it seemed to me support of my point #2.
5. I dig fireworks. Always have. In fact, growing up, dug firecrackers a whole lot more. A 4th of July that involved a brown paper sack of fireworks, enough to last the day, was a good day. We would start out as liberals, lighting entire strings of firecrackers at once; by the evening, we had becoming conservative, had unwound those strings and were lighting them one by one to last the night.
6. A thought on flags. It isn't a perfect analogy, I realize that, but imagine a person in South Korea who went around flying a North Korean flag or just had a bumper sticker with a North Korean flag on his car. It would be nothing less than treason. And yet, we have people who continue to celebrate the country that was never ours, the seceded South, by flying flags or putting on bumper stickers. The Bottle Rockets' song I've posted above is a brilliant examination of this situation, though from a racial perspective. I'm starting to look at it differently: if you fly the confederate flag, are you really celebrating the country that was never America?
7. Ex-patriates are sad people. You don't have to spend too much time around them to sense it. I'm not talking about someone who is just living in another country; I'm talking about someone who went for a little while not intending to stay and now finds him or herself a decade or more down the road and still there. Such people are especially bitter about the quirks and customs and behaviors of their host countries. At the same time, they are too far removed from their homelands to have much connection with those places. I suspect if they went back they would be equally bitter about the changes that have taken place back home since they lived there. I knew Thomas Wolfe was talking about a town, and I understood, but the sadness compounds when you realize how hard it is to go home again to a country that you left a long time ago.
8. And so, this year is the first 4th of July I have ever "missed," have not celebrated. The only thing I can equate it to was in 1969 when I was up at my grandparents' cottage on Podash Lake in Ontario, Canada for the first moon landing. My grandfather had brought up from Buffalo a small black and white TV so we could watch, but the picture was grainy, and it was hard to tell what was what. Even at the time, 12 years old, I remember think how odd that I was not in America for the culminating event of all my years of fascination with NASA. Alas, we cannot always be where we want to be. But next year.................
9. There was a second shooter on the grassy knoll.
"Wave That Flag" is from the Bottle Rockets first CD, available at Itunes and highly-recommended if you want to know what it was like when one of America's best rock bands first burst onto the scene.