It's nights like this that I'm proud to be an American. Or something.
Tonight, my beloved imlad
and I kept to a tradition we'd been exercising for a few years. We have these friends who live in Beacon Hill, and from the rooftop of their apartment building, you get a spectacular view of Boston's fireworks display.
Now these friends are people imlad
knew before he met me. That is, well, they're mundanes. Mind you, they're awesome mundanes. Smart, funny, interesting people, into ancient Greece and modern art, who invite people over who are usually the same sorts of mundanes. We are, in a sense, their pet freaks, and we enjoy being so, and now and then we meet people there who look like they could be pushed over the edge with a feather.
This time, though, the gathering was smaller. Our favorite couple there was now a single, the wife having split and moved to Atlanta. The cooler people we'd met in the past were absent. Our host's busybody older sister and her obnoxious husband were there. We had some chit chat and some nice food, and then headed up to the roof to await the fireworks display.
All around were the other denizens of the building, most of whom seemed to be young and annoying, the types who yell inane things like "YEAH baby! DO it!" every time a big firework explodes. And as I sat and waited for the festivities to begin, I realized a profound truth that doesn't often occur to me anymore in my life: I was bored.
I had spent the afternoon surrounded by people I know and love. My people; my community. I'm very lucky to spend so much time in their embrace, enveloped in their love, sharing food and booze and touch and watching their kids run around underfoot. I don't think I express my gratitude often enough for the fact that, essentially, I'm shielded from the world by a different, smaller world that is being created, day by day, by the awesome people who surround me.
And here I was, on a rooftop in Beacon Hill, surrounded by the kind of people who would bring a television out onto a roofdeck so as, presumably, to watch the fireworks on television and in real life at the same time.
As if to make the final point, the fireworks began. And while at first they were very lovely as always, as the show went on, it began to generate so much smoke that eventually the fireworks couldn't be seen at all. The finale was a series of degenerate booms ringing out over a cheering crowd, who were probably actually crying out their dying breaths before they asphyxiated. Even the one thing that seemed like a guaranteed good time failed us this year, the spectacle we'd come for literally lost in a puff of smoke.
We flowed down the stairs and flopped on the couch, where we watched the post-processing on the local news while we waited out the first wave of people leaving the Esplanade. After a hyper-cheery report on the just-finished fireworks display, which apparently thrilled everyone to death (maybe literally) in spite of the fact that nobody could see it, the news did an editorial piece on why people in Massachusetts are really patriotic, in spite of the fact that Massachusetts is one of the bluest states in the nation.
Let me just say that again so it sinks in.Even though
Massachusetts is a really blue
state, its citizens love
celebrating their patriotism!
Because we all know that liberals and Democrats hate America.
So this was the idea of the report. The substance? Showing the happy people gathered on the Esplanade in front of the Hatch Shell, bedecked with styrofoam Liberty spikes and waving the American flag, smiling empty, vapid smiles while listening to the Pops grind out Tchaikovsky for the nth time (a tune, by the way, commemorating Russia's defeat of Napoleon in 1812, not our defeat of the British) while fireworks explode over their heads (or at least that's what it sounded like). Then, showing people in other cities, protesting the government's actions!
Gasp! Horrors! People who disagree with the government!
How unpatriotic. Juxtapose that with a heartwarming story about a father and son who just came home from serving in Iraq together (they're so proud), and there's your dose of news for the night.
By this point I was so depressed I started to fall asleep, so we said our goodbyes and walked out onto the street, where a sinister police helicopter was circling, shining a searchlight into the alleys below. Streetlights flashed and the sidewalks swarmed with happy patriots trying to return to their homes. Outside of the Charles MGH station, these masses stood, waiting for the armed guards to let them pass in groups into the station.
On the train home, my feet aching, I stood listening to the conversations around me. A loud man behind me said, "That's your problem, you're so negative about everything. That's why I hate my family. I hate
them, because they're always so negative about everything, you know?!"
Do people even listen to what comes out of their mouths?
I don't have broadcast TV at home. The local news is telling people that dissent is unpatriotic, that they should be afraid to walk the streets at night, that being an American is about war and triumph and F15 flyovers and not about what freedom actually means. The circus we go through every year at the Hatch Shell celebrates all of that, and decides that the Raging Grannies in Portland Oregon or wherever are a bunch of commies who hate America.
And a 16-year-old looking kid stands outside the closing doors of a train and says, to someone safely crammed inside the car, "I'll kill you. I swear it. If I see you around, I'll kill you." I watch his dead eyes, flickering cold blue light like TV screens, as the train pulls painfully out of the station.
Back in Davis Square we meet somebody we know almost instantly; she comments on imlad
's kilt as we mount the escalator. On the brick-lined street, a passing kid is singing "Holiday in Cambodia."
At last we're home, and I feel again the tenuousness of my position, the baby-fine but strong filament on which I soar in love. Those threads that weave themselves over me and my loved ones, in a web that I wish weren't necessary.
But it is. Because every time I venture into the larger world I'm reminded of one of the things that depresses me, and that I so wish weren't true: the vast majority of people are sheep. Docile, stupid, reactionary, ugly, greedy, empty-eyed consumers fueled by beer and fear. They're living the American nightmare. And only a very few will awaken in their lifetimes.
As we rounded the last corner to our house, a bumper sticker on a parked car caught my eye. Incongruously but piercingly, it said only, "Sift."