July 4th, 2011 Sun tilting West, hot enough to create mild swamp ass, many mosquitoes
Shadows lengthen. Heated Hibachi’s smoke with suggestive scents of hot dogs and cobbed corn. Adorned with multi-colored blankets and a triumphant throng, this grassy park plays host to America’s Independence Day celebration. Across the nation, citizens rejoice in memory of America’s glorious victory over the British and I have journeyed here to observe human relationship rituals, flatulent smells notwithstanding.
Lawn chairs, lounge chairs and wheelchairs respond to the BYO-Seating invitation, and thousands pack the lawns for a music festival-cum-fireworks gala. Presumably, holidays bring families together, the bonding sacrament taking place over spat watermelon seeds and fabricated song lyrics. Americans sing, hug and barbecue with a complete lack of restraint. There are NO happy British people here.
Close to the stage, a Vietnamese family fiddles frantically with bamboo foldouts and at least one grandmother falls ass-backward before becoming properly situated. Holding a curiously empty dog leash, a child with a lobotomized stare scampers aimlessly.
This festival is hosted by the local Valley Cultural Center and presided over by a fifty-foot inflatable slide shaped like a Saber-toothed tiger – its entry appears to be its anus and its exit is the oral cavity slightly beneath eight-foot-long helium–filled fangs – the children then climbing into the elevated rear-end and sliding down the esophagus to be vomited from the prehistoric mammal’s mouth, a sight which scares the living shit out of several terrified toddlers, understandably. Below the tree line, the sun continues its descent.
On stage, seven wig-wearing women perform cover tunes with unfortunate enthusiasm. Behind an over-full trashcan, a Silly String war is in full force. Wearing a Mick Jagger shirt, one pony-tailed man is knuckle deep into his nose. In addition to the personal barbecues, several local vendors occupy the jamboree’s sidelines offering typical gustatory fare including: pizza, kettle corn, tri-tip and cotton candy. In long lines, lip-licking patrons coalesce. As I observe the gastronomically gregarious crowd, a toddler approaches and spears me with a potato chip, then cries, and finally stares at me with smug satisfaction as his parents bestow upon me an accusing gaze. Several elderly women wander about with vacant expressions.
Merging politics with entertainment, the local Congressman is here, passing out literature and hair combs embossed with his Federal ID bank account number, a rather satirical marketing ploy considering he is both bald and a hair’s breadth away from losing the upcoming election. Somewhere, a hot dog is burning.
The annual I-Day event draws out L.A.’s various identities. The multi-cultural crowd consumes varieties of food, beverage and song. In the spirit of goodwill and in an effort to unify the city’s citizens, the local council hosts these celebrations at egregious taxpayer expense.
Proximally, in a sandpit, a colossal battle has erupted with a swarm of three-foot high hobbits slamming beach balls into oversized abdomens and, as yet, unbroken noses. With tribal screams, fierce-faced foes fight with round weapons, the grunting mass of humanity driving a stampede of dust into teary eyes and elfish ears. Over one super-sized sphere, a growling stack of masculinity engages in a filial death throe. Nearby, two seven-year olds clothesline a five-year old. Furious feet dart and scurry while miniature arms catapult missiles aimed to batter the enemy. Above the distant din of bad band sounds, the Whap and Thud of inflated plastic pounding flesh resounds. The speed of the attack is astounding. To the shrieking delight of the assailant, one parent attempts to intrude and is skulled. The perpetual squealing overwhelms cries of cranial concussions, and bleeding noses. As though signaling something, a lone red balloon ascends into the evening sky. All this takes place as weary mothers tighten Tupperware containers and oblivious fathers discuss the latest baseball scores.
Immersed in imperfect cuisine and inadequate imitations of actual dancing, many festival-goers tumble about with horse-jawed smiles and distended bellies. Having spent a life on the fringe, I cannot fathom the level of alcohol consumption it would require to make me join the fray. And yet, in its most communal moment, this is American life.
The consequence of a sharp shoe-tip, the tiger’s face begins to deflate. His collapsing left eye appears to be winking at me. In the crowd’s center, a woman sits face to face with her hundred-twenty pound bulldog and taunts it with a funnel cake. A Rolling Stones song rings out and the nose picker, in an approving gesture, now raises a booger-laden index finger and undecorated pinky skyward. Around them, traversing the labyrinth of picnic blankets and hot spatulas, folks scuttle about. American flags fly freely from hats, heads, hands, and the helpless homeless – even freedom has its prisoners. The air is tinged with that coolness one feels when there’s an unexpectedly exposed body part in the middle of the night, and in anticipation of the impending aerial display, the audience stirs. Tree-side, in a curious affair with a dog dropping, an inquisitive infant contemplates the edibility quotient of the parched puppy poop and his overcooked hot dog, the lesser of two evils winning out, thankfully.
Behind the stage, a commotion has broken out and two angry hordes are now shouting profanities at each other. As security moves backstage, the band executes an ill-timed rendition of Come Together. Northward, an infant is losing a wrestling match with his blanket. Beneath the trees, another disturbance has the paramedics running to aid. Turns out the Tri-Tip tent, in an ill-fated entrepreneurial venture, rushed out the sandwiches a bit too tartar, causing several audience members to begin heaving and hurling. Beside the ruckus, a young boy’s soiled knuckles appear above the inner edge of a trash bin. The entire scene pulses like an anaerobic heartbeat.
Facially-painted children admire each other’s artwork and search for bugs – one child receiving malevolent stares, the consequence of his parents regrettable decision to withhold the five-dollar face painting fee and to allow the child’s dinner condiments – it’s possible only the ketchup was attacking his face, but when combined with the mustard and mayonnaise, the poor kid’s countenance looked like an explosion in Crayola factory – to serve as decoration.
Distantly, and with the voice of an old Italian man, a dog yelps. Given over to Pavlovian instinct, the bulldog now stands atop the desert-less woman whose chair has folded in half, trapping her between two imprisoning flaps of vinyl as the dog goes to town on her funnel cake. Backstage, tensions increase as three Pro-American demonstrators hit the port-a-potties to spell their distress. After a rapidly improvised huddle, the opposing twelve-man gang bull-rushes the toilets, upending potties and patriots in one contemptuously metaphoric shit show. Above the fracas, an un-shadowed football performs a parabola. There are many flies here.
Back at the sandpit, from a well-crafted flank, two six year-olds are facially bludgeoned and upended. In a pink t-shirt, a young girl lies catatonically sprawled upon the sand, drooling. Someone shoots two confetti bombs into the air and children scream and clutch the paper shreddings. Seeing the young female facedown in the dirt, several mothers abandon their foodstuffs and come running towards the melee. Imminent parental attack looming, a teenager, wielding flaming sparklers and sounding an alarm resonating with impossibly ironic historical implication, runs through the sandbox shouting “The bitches are coming, the bitches are coming.” Minutemen take up arms – in this case wiffle ball bats and Nerf guns – and prepare for battle. On a far off blanket, an ant army marches into a bag of Doritos. And so goes the evening.
Sky cobalt, the masses settle. Fiery fuses hiss amongst the crowd. On distant rooftops, barefooted stargazers watch and wait. It is one of those expoundable pre-climactic flashes when anxieties rise and one senses the deeper philosophical meaning of the circumstance etc. etc…. This is a true American moment – hope and excitement and grandness bottled up in an instant of anticipatory tension – and as I look around at the myriad ethnicities and ancestries represented in this West Coast melting pot, I can imagine similar expressions on those first Ellis Island settlers, the grateful Europeans whose dream of something greater shone forth from Lady Liberty’s bright beacon.
Slack-jawed children sit upon shoulders. Above purple mountains and amber fields, freedom disseminates in explosive luminescence, booming with majestic resonance, the star-spangled skies announcing America’s independence. Youth coo. As the furious fusillade rumbles through patriotic hearts, wives and girlfriends clasp reassuring masculine hands. The assembly roars its approval.
Then silence. Smoky skies smell of gunpowder. Fathers tote sleeping offspring. Deflated beach balls lie breathless upon the lawn, like slain soldiers. The celebration is over. Only freedom remains…freedom and the resounding aspiration of a nation.