Kage Baker was a responsible, patriotic American. She paid her taxes, served on juries without complaint, voted in every election – even volunteered at polling places between jobs. She came of a family where military and civil service jobs were considered de rigeur, and had uncles in service all over the world and cousins from every breed of humans.
And she loved the 4th of July. And she loved fireworks. The two were only tangentially connected: in California, fireworks are most likely to be found at 4th of July celebrations and baseball games; and since Kage was allergic to sports ball of all sorts, her only explosive outlet was 4th of July.
It must be admitted, though, that she did indulge in illegal fireworks when she found a way. I cannot deny that the occasional bottle rocket was fired from our backyard. Fireworks were easy to get in Pismo Beach, where they were illegal to sell in Pismo itself but not in every single little town around it – Kage, like everyone else in San Luis Obispo County, bought her fireworks over the nearest city line and virtuously set them off only on the beach. It was illegal to do that, too, in Pismo; but on July 4th and on the sands, the police ignored this behaviour unless you were actively on fire.
If you tried it anywhere else, though, they nailed you. One of the festive sights of 4th of July in Pismo was always some foolish incendiarist tourist trotting down the street handcuffed to a PBPD bicycle – during the holiday, the police went afoot and on bikes, as the car traffic was too thick for police cars. I cherish the memories of some shirtless drunk in a gimme cap being pulled along by two natty cops on their blue-and-white bicycles, yammering about his right to set off guns and M-80’s in the public street …
There’s one of the huge mysteries of our country right there in miniature, Dear Readers – the insistence of the average American on being an irresponsible agent of chaos on ritual occasions in order to celebrate “Freedom”. Apparently being an American means – to a lot of us – that you are entitled to render the rest of the world unhappy, insane or dead, in order to practice your Constitutional rights. It doesn’t matter whether or not they are being violated; my neighbors, at least, are apparently rehearsing for that longed-for day when the Martians invade and their drunken asses are miraculously transformed into a “well-regulated militia”. Yeah, hold your breath for that one, kids.
I wanted to write something charmingly Norman Rockwell-ish about this all-American holiday: barbecues, the limitless ways to cook hot dogs and pies and burgers and beans, fireworks and happy families and how really exciting the smell of black powder can be! But I can’t. I’m too tired and busy and not at all in a good mood. Where I live, illegal explosives and guns have become a way of life – the last week has been a steadily escalating hell, as “patriots” have been firing all and anything as straight up into the air as they can manage (which isn’t very). They seem unaware that bullets, sky rockets and embers come back down.
And tonight, of course, we get an up close and personal demonstration of why the capitol of Hell is named Pandemonium.
Police helicopters are loathe to come over and high-beam perps because they are vulnerable to being shot out of the air – no, seriously; a Chinese sky rocket in the tail rotor is very bad news. Police have only so many cars, motorcycles and bikes (and the LAPD is also out on damn near anything they can lay their hands on tonight, too) and they are dealing with worse things than illegal fireworks – things like the illegal fireworks that have already managed to set buildings on fire, which is happening all over the city. The LAFD is understaffed, undermanned, and half their resources are out fighting brush fires in the hills anyway.
Last night, a little girl in Compton got her hand blown off by a cherry bomb tossed at her in a public park. There are other, less horrible injuries beginning to pile up in the ERs everywhere; by evening, there will be more and worse wounds everywhere.
My family will keep the dog and the cats drugged to their furry little ears, and stay close to them to try and keep them calm. No one has been allowed out all day, nor will all night; we’ve replaced or baby-gated every screen a terrified animal might breach. And I’ve got my nitroglycerin to hand, as I do have this damned wonky heart.
We’ve forted up as best we can. We’ll barbecue and we’ll eat watermelon and corn and ice cream. We have our flag out, and our holiday porch lights are all red, white and blue. We’ll watch special movies, that say “4th of July” to us, and salute our country that we really, actually do love …
I love my country. But sometimes, I fear my neighbors.