The Fourth of July, 2002

It was a good weekend, if what you like is drunken revelry, the occasional glass breaking and the constant sound of illegal fireworks. The Fourth of July is always a strange holiday to celebrate, given that it comes during the hottest time of the year, it"s only one day and the only presents you have to buy are liquor and food.

This year, especially, the Fourth takes on a special meaning for some. But I"m afraid most people are going to celebrate this particular Independence Day not in somber reflection of our nation but in an intoxicated state, blasting off quasi-legal firecrackers and such.

When I"m talking fireworks, d"you know what I mean? The good kind. The kind especially designed to blind, maim and incapacitate. To hell with those wimpy fireworks that they sold in Indiana before the law was changed. If our fighting men and women of the past were willing to sacrifice their lives for the U.S.A., the least we can do is blow off a finger or two for the Fourth. Right?

A couple of hours into the party honoring this great American holiday, someone noticed that most of the fireworks we were using were made in the People"s Republic of China, that freedom-loving nation. You remember them; their motto is "We"re building a better slave labor system - one customer at a time."

As befits a Communist dictatorship, the names of the fireworks were military in nature: Artillery Warhead. Military Smoke Bomb. Detonating Missile. Ominously, one of the largest was called Nuclear Blaster. Why not Tiananmen Massacre? Or Cambodian Slayer? Tibetan Detonator?

And, for the American-made fireworks, why not name them Iraqi Blaster, or Afghani Shredder?

If you go by the fireworks industry, America is no longer a superpower. The only American-made products that seemed to be available were the Party Popper, the five-for-a-dollar fake champagne bottles that shoot confetti, and the so-called "Easy-Lite" sparklers, which required the firepower of an acetylene torch to ignite.

But the most curious item by far was the package of 144 bottle rockets, which one fireworks store was selling for 5 cents. They were the no-frills bottle rockets, the basic kind that flies up, goes bang, then falls on your neighbor"s carport.

A lot of clues can be uncovered by reading the packaging. The brand name on the rockets was Horse Brand Air Travel. Underneath "Air Travel," it said, in smaller letters, "WITH REPORT."

We didn"t blast off all 144 rockets, but we never heard any reports back from any of those we launched. So we made up our own: "Confirm launch sequence ... altitude 75 feet ... firecracker detonated ... stick is on a collision course with the Pixleys" house ... rocket has landed."

Even weirder was the other writing on the package: "Made in Jaingmen Kwangtung China. Manufactured by China National Native Produce and Animal By-Products." I haven"t seen a more baffling, ungrammatical sentence since the last Insider column in The Star. Or my last few columns.

There are many reasons to celebrate this nation"s independence. Especially during wartime, it"s important to take stock of oneself. But I wonder what happened to all of the American flags which were bought after Sept. 11?

Where are the "America First" people now, who just a few months ago were proclaiming our divine right to annihilate the world in retribution for the horrific events of last September?

It would be a mistake to say things have calmed down now. From what I hear, Washington is a virtual military camp. And a friend of mine has been mistakenly identified as being of Middle Eastern descent and hassled for it.

The attacks have been used as justification for just about any course of action this government - one which lost the popular vote, I may remind you - wishes to take.

My friend is dreaming about taking off to the Pacific Northwest and starting a commune, so afraid of the shitstorm about to occur. I myself, after 30+ years as a news junkie, have turned off my TV, stopped reading newspapers and keep in touch with the world via CNN Breaking News e-mail alerts.

Another one of my friends sold everything and moved to Death Valley, where nobody would notice if nuclear bombs went flying and the black hole sun came out of the clouds.

Just a year ago at this time, I recall grilling hamburgers at my grandma"s house. The iced Lipton was being poured, fresh packs of Marlboro Mediums were being opened and the potato salad was brimming over with bacon.

Everything is different now. My life has undergone an infinite amount of changes unrelated to Sept. 11. My career has taken a turn for the better. I"m having more fun.

But I can"t escape the feeling that we are all fooling ourselves with our wartime distractions. My personal quests pale next to the gigantic suffering occurring across the world as a result of 9/11.

However, I don"t see much changing my style, y"know? I will always listen to garage punk music. I will always hang out with the same kind of people. My life hasn"t been noticeably altered yet.

Except for the feeling of dread that permeates most everyone I know. I guess that"s the point. Everybody"s expecting another massive attack so they"re living as fast as they can until it comes.

Whatever. Happy Fourth of July.


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