Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Are Those Fireworks For ME?

Happy 4th of July!!!!! (photo
copyright S Botham 2011)

            There’s not much to do in Chelmsford - during the week or on the weekend. It is small town New England at its finest. I LOVED going to the liquor store when I was little. It was an overwhelmingly exciting place. Not only was it filled with beautiful glass bottles of colorful treats that I could only imagine tasted like various melted popsicles, there were kid friendly toys! When you turned to the right and walked towards the refrigerated walls at the back of the store you would find the wishing well. Can you believe it? A WISHING WELL! With an acetate thatched wooden roof and blue water on which was floating a smiley yellow rubber duck. Little did I know that this was actually just a wine cooler.
The real treat though is one that still returns every Christmas. Model trains. The largest display I’ve ever seen. It runs the entire depth of the liquor store (and this is NOT a tiny establishment). I can press the button to start the trains on their journey around the tracks and feel about 25 years shed from my pericardium. The joy and wonder spreads from ear to ear, like it did the first time I set foot inside the walls of Disneyland. And when I analyze it, I realize that a tiny piece of this spark is present every time I set foot in Harrington’s liquor store, and I am certain that many other children and adults feel the same way. Then I wonder if perhaps it isn’t normal to instill this association of joy with liquor stores in small children.
            You haven’t lived until you’ve experienced small town New England patriotic celebrations. The first thing that must be realized is that the beginning of this country in this region is a matter of sick and twisted pride. There is a remembrance of bloodshed. After all, the Revolutionary War started HERE. People fight about whose town is more important, as if we were living in a bad Christopher Guest film (something similar to Waiting for Guffman). This is the place where people regularly dress up in costume from the 1700’s, and march around playing fife and drum and waving flags, and pretend that the British are coming. Naturally, these people need something to do so most towns have a 4th of July parade. Chelmsford is no exception. We have a parade, a road race, and on the 3rd of July there is a county fair-style mess (to us it’s “the booths”) on the town common where different groups from town either sell food or have raffles and silly games where kids can win things like glow in the dark bouncy balls (which they then take home and immediately test out in the closet with their little brother, and accidentally crush little brother’s fingers in hinge side of closet door, leading to a trip to the emergency room).
What does it mean to be an American? Is it something we should be proud of? There was a time when being an American stood as an association with those who saved the people of Normandy from the approaching doom of Hitler’s invasion. Being an American also matched you up with the painted caricatures of US government heads like Reagan and Bush and negative words on the sides of buildings in Havana. While the paintings are propaganda, it still remains true that the embargo made it near impossible for Cubans to access much-needed antibiotics and other medications produced by American pharma corporations. (Thankfully, now a lot of these medications are being produced overseas so I would hope that has changed).
I can call Barack Obama a f#$%$@#^ chucklehead many times a day (and I DO) and not have to sleep with a gun under my pillow, but for how long? How long until I’m no longer allowed to own a gun? Things are changing here, and some things I find worrisome. I applaud people’s right to worship or not as they choose. And I understand that people want the separation of church and state. I completely agree. I become concerned when people no longer want to be gracious to the country in which they live. And even WORSE, people are more worried about offending others by being gracious to their own country. THAT is offensive to me. To pledge allegiance to the flag, to me, is like saying thank you. Thank you; I’m lucky to live here; I’m glad I don’t live in Bhutan. When you’re in elementary school, and you are reciting the pledge of allegiance, you don’t yet know that you are glad you don’t live in Bhutan. But you are. And you will figure it out. Can we learn to appreciate the sentiment, and stop arguing about the dogma?
            As a musician, I am lucky to have an opportunity to play pops concerts for patriotic holidays. I am divulging a well kept secret right now: I LOVE playing patriotic pops concerts. I don’t mind playing off beats in Yankee Doodle and Sousa marches. It is unbelievably rewarding to play the Armed Forces Salute, which goes through the theme song for each branch of service, and the veterans and active members are generally invited to stand during their respective songs. I always think about my grandfathers during the Army and Navy tunes (they both served in WWII), and my friend Latoya who’s a Marine (Afghanistan). As select audience members stand I watch the pride beaming from their eyes, these noble people who let their guard down for a brief moment, just long enough to allow someone to acknowledge how much they have sacrificed. It brings tears to my eyes. At a recent concert, I had a similar reaction during God Bless America. It’s not one of my favorite songs (it’s growing on me), but it strikes a chord with many. During our performance, about halfway through, three men of my mother’s generation or a bit older (definitely old enough to be around during the War in Vietnam), rose up out of their chairs and loudly started to sing along. It wasn’t the kind of singing you get in a drunken show tunes bar party. They held their heads high and their shoulders back and opened their mouths wide. You could see and hear from their conviction that being American DID mean something to them. I fear for the day when these people are gone.
I think our government is filled with a bunch of rich buffoons who wouldn’t know what it was to struggle unless you threw them naked in a 20 feet deep, glass shard filled pit of starving lions. They’re out of touch, and they don’t care, including that dickhead of a president who has spent more tax dollars on vacations than I will make in a lifetime. They are not America. They are just a used up old Philippe Starck for Target fruit bowl. We are America. The struggling soulful people inside the fruitbowl. Fresh kumquats and tangelos.
            My next-door neighbor, who has since passed on from cancer, was Cambodian. He spent a large chunk of his life hiding in the jungle from the oppressive militia of Pol Pot to try and get here. He saw his own family shot down in front of him. He was the kind of person who would pick up hitchhikers and drive them anywhere they wanted to go. He felt it was his job to help other people because he was lucky to have made it here. I still can’t buy anything with a “Made in Cambodia” tag on it. His wife and daughters are still living next door. He has a beautiful granddaughter now. And thanks to his courage, none of them will ever have to worry about lions and tigers (or despots) again. That is something worth being proud of.

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