america

The Fourth, albeit a tad late

Hi, Everybody.

It’s rare I take time away from the studio. Right now I’ve got tons going on, and I’m only just staying on top of it. Still, this year’s 4th of July weekend was an exception I made to the grindstone at my nose.

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The 4th of July is my stepmother Janine’s birthday. It’s also the wedding anniversary of my mom and step dad. As it isn’t all that customary to be a third wheel during someone’s anniversary, and as it’s been a very hectic year for Janine, I opted to go visit her. My dad was there, of course, so were my two younger siblings Joseph and Julie. We had a good time.

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My stepmom’s brother David, his wife Jane and their daughter Ann were in town from Parker, Colorado, as well. I hadn’t seen Ann since she was probably 13. I’m not sure what the occasion was. But she’s completely grown now, albeit still a highschooler. All of us gathered at Janine and David’s parents’ house in Raleigh for Janine’s birthday party. We had barbecue, a cake, plenty of seasonal fruits and a really top notch watermelon.

I went with Joey, Julie and Ann to the Raleigh fairgrounds to watch fireworks. Parking was easy, leaving was a chore. But it was good to be there with my amazing family and people watch.

Now, I’m one of those typical postmodern cynics who has never worn an American flag pin. I have no patriotic bumper stickers and certainly no paraphernalia that equates being an American with being a Christian. I do not think I’m any better or any worse than anyone else for being an American, and I don’t hold the smug opinion that America is the greatest nation in the world.

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At the fairgrounds, I looked around and saw lots of bulging, misshapen, fashionless people who might raise the eyebrows of Europeans and make them curl a lip and sniff. I saw (metric) tons of people who reminded me of the curse of Wal Mart, the plague of gluttony and the unappreciated illusion of comfort. I saw one group of sackish roundies lumped in lawn chairs around a grill, faces forward, close to their paper plates. A song could be heard from the stereo of their SUV; something about putting a boot in your ass if you mess with America. And part chewing, part singing, many of them fell in step with the song. I tell you. In a time of crisis, could these Jabbas be counted on to defend our nation? Could any one of them be depended upon to contribute a thought towards reworking health care, improving public education or fixing the economic crisis? Would they just sit back in their groaning folding chairs, filling their face with the remains of charred, greasy animal, shout pro-American (whatever that means these days) diatribes and just allow the world to occur around them? I could feel the judgment welling up within me against all these obese people who Wont. Stop. Eating. Junk. Food. And their spherical children, squawking in inarticulate drawling honks and squeaks.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve made plenty of wrong, hurtful, unjustified sneers at large people, and I’m working on becoming more sensitive. You can tell the difference between someone who is gluttonous, lazy and self destructive and one who simply has a big body shape. I’m not coming down on being fat. There were plenty of thin people as well crouched around their own grills, while their own children seemed to supply the What Not To Do footage for self help videos for baboons.

But there were other people at the fairgrounds. I saw parents playing with kids. I saw groups of kids gather for an impromptu game of swatting a tennis ball to each other handball style. That, I thought, was pretty creative. I liked the way those kids adapted to their circumstance of an empty, dirt field, and no other equipment than a tennis ball. They all got on really well and seemed to have a great time.

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I saw a toddler waddle up to another family and sit down with their toddler as if the two were a married couple. His mom wasn’t even fazed that her kid had wandered off. In fact, she herself walked up and introduced herself while their kids played. I was pleased to see that so many people had turned out for a pro-American event. I took note that there was a tremendous ethnic mix. Nobody quibbled, and it appeared that, other than groups of family members, nobody really carved out enclaves. My family and I were flanked by Koreans behind us, a black woman and her son next to us, Latinos in front of us, and two rows down, Bengalis. With ease and familiarity, the woman and her son next to us asked a white man in the next row if he could spare some napkins since the boy’s funnel cake was getting the better of him. There was no awkwardness, no over-niceness, no forced smiles or great exaggerated shows of accommodation. It was just a thing. Somebody needed a napkin. All at once, it was profound and mundane. It’s no big deal to need or to give a napkin. Half a century ago, however, that simply wouldn’t have happened. But it happened here, now, in America. We’ve at least proven that human beings can be kind and comfortable around each other.

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While the fireworks went on, many pro-America, pro-being American songs played loudly and tinny over the booming speakers. The songs were almost all country western. Hmm. I look forward to a day when other kinds of white people and people of other cultures and colors feel good enough about living here to make pro-American songs of their own. I heard the twangy “Proud to Be an American” song that came on the radio a bunch during high school when Bush Jr.’s gulf war was in full swing. I hate that song. Particularly because it was written during/because of a Bush war. I don’t like Bush wars. I think the Bushes are scoundrels and I don’t trust them. I don’t care for patriotic diatribes that make us look like such strugglers, victims and overcomers during times of incredible ease in which only the families of the soldiers who fight are affected by a war. I’m not necessarily proud to be an American. My Christian faith discourages being proud, since all that we have to be proud of comes from the grace of God. I’m not ashamed of being an American either. I just don’t think I’m any more blessed by God than anyone else just because I was born white in America.

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The National Anthem was sung that night by a very talented black woman. She was extremely practiced and skilled. She hit every note and then some. As some singers do, this one fluttered around the melody in acrobatic arcs and dips, but not as if to show off. Some people do that ‘cause they can’t find the melody. This lady was simply darned good at what she did. The event’s choice of her as a singer offset, at least in my mind, the predominantly country white aesthetic of the event. If there are non-whites who are particularly happy to be Americans, we don’t hear about them much. I’d be curious to hear their stories.

So, anyway, there I was with some of my family and tons of strangers. I’ve got a stepparent’s birthday to celebrate and another stepparent’s anniversary to honor, so the 4th of July makes me stop and consider not just my place within America, but my place within my family. Depending on the angle an observer took, America or my family could be seen as wretched. My family is rife with bad habits, divorces, anger, resentment, awkwardness, you name it. America is full of gluttonous, greedy, loud, smelly, selfish, crass, dull, ugly, obese, hoarding, conquering and smug people. On the other hand, my family has overcome a lot. We’ve dusted off, forgiven, forgotten, learned our lessons, patched up and moved on. America is full of responsible people aware of our many problems, and who wish not to jump ship and expatriate, but stick around and make the ship float better. I think I’ll stick around too.

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So, in sticking around, I’m off to the studio to continue preparations for a TV series I wish to pitch, based on my creatures. How great is it that I want to give Americans one more reason to loaf on the couch in front of the TV, and buy plastic things off of toy store shelves? I think I’m doing it because it’s a high stakes, high odds challenge, and I want it. Could that be an American trait? Perhaps. Anyway. I’ve left you with a few teaser sketches around this entry to let you see what I’m working on. You’re welcome to speculate and leave comments.

Take care!
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