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Independence Day


Harry Buschman

My chair was uncomfortable, hard in all the wrong places. I would never have bought a chair like this... and what was I doing here in the first place? I lost my interest in Fourth-of-July parties years ago, and I don't like the idea of being held a hostage on my own street just because the younger generation have put up barricades and decided to have a block party.

My distress surely must be visible. People avoid me... "can I get you something Mr. Buschman, Coke or a beer maybe?" Phyllis takes pity on me... "would you like a softer chair?"

"No thanks, Phyllis." She is wearing a halter and much of her upper body is bare to the sun. There is too much of her for this humid afternoon. Phyllis can not stand anyone not having a good time, and as a result, she rarely has a good time herself. If they'd just leave me alone, I'm sure my mood will pass. Here, in this happy crowd of couples I am filled with an indescribable sense of loss bordering on a kind of jealousy that only widows and widowers can understand.

Holidays are the worst of times. Christmas is the bottom, but the Fourth of July is no bed of roses either. When we were young, the Fourth of July was the apex of the summer trajectory, the high point. The kids were eager for the beach, eager for a cookout, eager for just about anything outdoors; but after the Fourth, the bloom was off the rose, and the hot, dry summer lost much of its bloom as well.

There's a new generation of Westlake Villagers now. I remember some of them as children, but there are others, people of different colors and textures, bringing with them customs that are strange to me.

But we all have the Fourth of July in common. Independence! Everybody celebrates the Fourth of July. There is an Indian couple sitting across from me. The wife is wearing a diamond in her nose, and even in this humid weather the baby in her lap is wrapped in a crocheted blanket. Her husband is a man I know as Ramash, a surgeon at Highview Hospital. Our customs of worship may vary. Some of us may eat pork; some may not. Some are convinced that after death they will return as farm animals; others are content to take what they get, but all of us share the joy of independence from Great Britain.

"Hey, how you doin' wordsmith? I thought all reporters carried a notebook." It was "Old" Dick Donahue carrying two beers -- he brought back the old days.

"Hi, Dick. I'm not a reporter, I'm a featured writer. Is one of those beers for me?"

"Well, no. Actually they're both mine, but if you ask me real nice I'll let you have the one I started."

He sat in the hard plastic chair next to me and rolled his eyes. "Y'know, I saw these chairs in K-Mart last week. $4.99! I was thinkin' about buyin' a couple for Edie and me -- glad I didn't. There ain't nowhere in hell anybody's ever gonna make somethin' comfortable to sit on for $4.99.

I took his beer and stood up. "When it comes to old asses and cheap chairs, Dick, you know more about them than I... let's see what's going on."

We talked about the custom of block parties. Long ago somebody got the idea of calling the police department and getting permission to close the street for a summer party. The police set up temporary barricades, and if you lived on that street, you were confined to quarters for a day. Our street, Hyacinth, was closed all the way from Nickerson to 14th -- a good half mile.

The beer was a little warm for my taste. My four legged friend Corky spotted me with it and fell into step with me as we walked over to watch the kids competing in the one legged race. Corky paid them no attention, his eyes were riveted on my beer.

"Look at Dick," I reminded him, "he's got a fresh one."

Corky gave Dick a quick glance and a single thump of his tail, then turned back to me. A thirsty Bassett has eyes that would melt the heart of a Turkish rug salesman. He knew I was the easy mark, not "old" Dick. Dick would drain his dry -- then get a nickel back on the can. It's got to be the Irish in him, and I am forced to sympathize with any animal indentured to an Irishman.

I couldn't stand it. I poured some beer in a plastic container that was still coated with a scum of salad dressing and put it on the ground for Corky. Before he set to it, he gave me such an unmistakable look of affection -- it revealed the ancient bond of brotherhood between man and dog. Corky was not my Bassett nor would he ever be, but at that moment he was closer to me than the people he lived with.

Other dogs, strangers to the party, were playing one legged race with the children. Occasionally, children and dogs would tangle up and fall in a heap. Charlie Pinter's spaniel was caught red footed hoisting his leg against a pink and white bassinet containing Phyllis's grand-daughter and was sent home in disgrace. A cursory examination disclosed the baby's wetness was self-inflicted.

Then, along came Stacey -- Stacey Pomerance. She is gone from our employ at the "Guardian" and has found greener fields in Fortunoff's. There, she is the captive beauty who patrols the china department, and there she has met Murray Feldman the apprentice buyer. They were made for each other. Both of them would live forever on the outermost skin of life, nothing profound would ever touch them. In time they would have wraparound sofas, a canopied bed and a giant microwave oven. Their lawn would be mowed by Salvadorans up for the summer and they would float in majestic silence in their built-in swimming pool.

"Hi! Mr. "B." Happy fort-jew-lie. This here is Murray." She turned to Murray. "Murray, I told you all about Mr. "B," didn't I? He's a real pisser," To me, she added, "Murray and me got engaged; we're intended -- look at the ring he got me at Fortunoff's, it's a real diamond. Got it at cost from the store."

"Season's greetings, Murray, and congratulations, you're getting a rare young lady in Stacey. She's left a giant vacuum back at the Guardian."

"See, Murray -- didn't I tell you? I was an assistant editor there. I wasn't a cleaning lady."

There they go. Murray has the whipped look of a man led on a leash by a beautiful woman. This is not his neighborhood and he seems anxious to leave, but Stacey is on her home ground and wants to exhibit her intended apprentice buyer to her friends and neighbors. She will quickly grow fat I fear, and spend long tortuous afternoons at the spa, while Murray roams the world of china for Fortunoff.

The weatherman has promised us a twenty percent chance of rain late this afternoon and fog by nightfall. Prudence would dictate a postponement of the fireworks display, but those in charge are all for a go at it in spite of the weather. No one wants to baby sit the skyrockets in their basement until the weekend comes around.

"Old" Dick has disappeared, and I wander alone like Wotan from scene to scene. Old one eyed Wotan down from Valhalla, to whom everyone was a stranger and no one could be trusted. This is the third year without her, and the wound has yet to heal -- numb to the touch, but yet to heal. It's a huge mistake to call it "Independence Day."

©Harry Buschman 1998

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