Kage Baker loved the 4th of July.
She was patriotic. She paid her taxes, answered jury summons, obeyed most laws, flew the flag. She thought the United States, for all its flaws, was the best country in the world in which to live.
However, highest on her reasons for that may well have been fireworks. Kage adored fireworks. She worshipped fireworks. When she still lived at home, she would go up to the roof every 4th of July – you could see fireworks displays from all over Burbank and the San Fernando Valley from up there; she’d be dancing around on the battlements (the roof was flat and had faux battlements here and there) in glee and delight.
The years we lived in Pismo were the very best. We never lived more than a couple of blocks from the beach, and we’d go down every 4th and set up a redoubt. Pismo Beach puts on an especially fine display every year, and we’d sit there while Kage succumbed to complete sensory overload.
It’s illegal to set off private fireworks in Pismo. However, they are sold in every town that surrounds it. People buy tons of them, bring them to the beach in Pismo, and for the couple of hours before (and after) the legal show, the beach is packed full of private displays. Smart and responsible folks dig pits for them; insane and careless folks set ’em off right on the sand. Amazingly, no one ever gets immolated.
Children run around with sparklers and snakes; teenagers run around with Roman candles. Moon Flowers are thrown into the breakers, where the resulting glow and bubbles looks like R’lyeh rising from the depths. Everyone is wearing glow-stick necklaces. Piccolo Petes shrill everywhere, constantly. The beach develops a fog bank of black powder smoke, that swirls around everyone’s knees for hours; the air smells of burnt paper and hot forges.
It’s all totally against the law – but with literally thousands of happy maniacs all over the beach, the cops content themselves with stopping actual fires and dangers. You’ll get arrested if you set someone or thing on fire – you’ll get ticketed if you try launching fireworks from your butt crack or something equally stupid. Someone in the dunes nearby always has a mortar – as long as they don’t land a shot in among the audience, the cops leave ’em alone.
By the time the Municipal show started, Kage was in an ecstasy. We’d stagger home afterwards, along with whatever family and friends had come up to join us that year, and sit on the porch for the next two hours watching everything. It took two hours for the traffic to clear – the town holds 8,000 regular people, but on the 4th … up to 50,000 people are there. Which is why we always walked. And the amateur fireworks went on until well after midnight.
Those are my favourite memories of the 4th of July.
Los Angeles discourages private fireworks, and has for over half a century. We used to shoot some off in the backyard when I was very small, but it became far too dangerous – Los Angeles is a tinder pile waiting to burn, after all. Not that the laws stop everyone: the LAPD and the Fire Department are going to have a perfectly horrible night tonight, trying to prevent an urban firestorm. Every neighborhood has at least one idiot who somehow thinks they are immune to fire and the law.
We’ll call the cops if it’s a neighbor too close to us; everyone does, and the cops make it out to maybe 1 in 100 calls to stop them. Mostly they drive around and hope the sight of a black and white police car will discourage the worst excesses. We’ll also feed tranquilizers to the Corgi, and keep him and the cats inside starting – oh, right about now. We tried a Thunder Coat for the dog this year, but it turns out they don’t come in a size and shape suitable for a Corgi – Corgis, like true dwarves, are barrel-chested and low to the ground. It’s like Gimli in a mail shirt made for Legolas …
Here and now, we’ve watched 1776. Later on, we’ll watch Yankee Doodle Dandy or Field of Dreams or Independence Day. Good stuff. Stuff to make one recall why one is glad to be an American. Even if they are fantasies; where are dreams born from, if not from fantasies?
I am proud to be an American – proud and glad and grateful, too. For all that my country is exhibiting appalling signs of madness lately, I think it will survive. I intend to stick it out and do what I can to help. We were founded by loonies with a dream. We’re still the best place for loonies with dreams to live and thrive.
We make our own fireworks, in our heads and in our hearts.