Independence Day

I hate the Fourth Of July.

Call me unpatriotic and ungrateful and un-American all you want. Because I know I’m not. I just don’t understand what blowing things up has to do with celebrating our nation’s independence.

It wasn’t always this way. I have fond memories of climbing up on to the flat roof of my childhood home to watch the firework display put on each year at the Villa Plaza shopping center about a mile away. Perhaps we capped off the evening with a few sparklers and s’mores from the bonfire and the yummy knowingness that summer had only just begun. As I grew older, I would watch the Seattle waterfront fireworks show and oooh and aaah over each increasingly more spectacular display, giddy as we awaited the grand finale’s burst of color and light. On our last trip to Disneyland, we reluctantly waited for the fireworks show to begin, only to be left slack-jawwed and speechless by the impressive display. I remember saying then that I didn’t need to watch another fireworks show after that. It truly was that good. (C’mon, Tinkerbell actually flew through the air! Who does that?)

I used to think it simply wasn’t in my DNA. I was convinced that this affection for exploding things was strictly a Y-chromosone thing. During my tenure at television stations, I would watch my male colleagues excitedly jog frame-by-frame through a video of something exploding–it didn’t really matter what it was, a car, a box, a watermelon–and spend hours intently fascinated by the exact point of combustion and the trajectory of the tiny exploding parts. They would call me over, excited to share this visual candy with me, and I would shake my head, baffled by what all the fuss was about. I didn’t get it. So I thought it was a Guy Thing. But then I was reminded of my sister, normally quite reserved and unassuming, whose favorite day of the entire year was July 4th. She and her family would gather an impressive assortment of fireworks and spend the evening setting them off in the woodsy confines of their property in Redmond. My oldest sister would turn into a little kid again, the annual fireworks tradition lighting her up from the inside-out.

And then I moved to unincorporated Snohomish County. You can blow things up out here.

The firework stands go up about a week before the Fourth. Signs at the stands remind customers that it is illegal to set fireworks off before the actual Fourth Of July. That’s kind of like telling kids in a candy shop that they have to wait a week before putting the gummy bears they just bought in their mouth. Ridiculous. So, it begins. And not just sparklers, mind you. Big, concussive, felt-in-your-chest explosions from the M-80’s purchased at the Indian reservation up north. It starts in the morning hours and continues long into the night. Day after day, for a week. The worst part is when the neighborhood kids join in the fray, setting off their purchases right outside our windows, or so it seems. My dog, Max, seems to instinctively know that it’s coming, even before the first crack and boom of the season. Like clockwork, he becomes more anxious around the third week of June and I am always puzzled until I realize what’s looming just around the corner. After years of trying prescription tranquilizers and herbal remedies, Max now sports a “Thundershirt” for a few weeks in summer–a snug-fitting dog vest that is thought to soothe rattled nerves and anxiety. It doesn’t exactly turn Max into a Zen master of tranquility, but at least it lessens the uncontrollable shaking and panting.

For a few years, our family would hang out at the neighborhood potluck/fireworks show in the nearby cul-de-sac. I like my neighbors. Game face on, I did my best to enjoy the festivities and every year there was, inevitably, the firework that went horribly wrong. The fountain that seemed to tip over every year, spraying the spectators with projectile sparks. The Roman candle that didn’t shoot off as intended. Here–have a beer, have another, grab a flame, light a fuse. By ten o’clock, my family and I are usually tucked back inside our house, resigned to wait out the clamor of the holiday, which often lasts well past midnight. And then there’s the morning after. I will be finding remnants of bottle rockets in my yard for days after the Fourth. The entire neighborhood looks (and smells) like a war zone, a haze of acrid smoke in the air, rubble everywhere, blackened asphalt and ash scattered through the streets. At our old house in Bothell, we had our porch light literally blown off by an explosion. I just don’t get it. So, we celebrate our country’s birthday by re-creating the scenes and sounds of war? WTF? I have always wondered how many war veterans truly enjoy this? If you have actually lived through war, do you really want to live it again?

I find the Fourth Of July, as celebrated in my town, gluttonous and invasive. Literally thousands of dollars up in smoke. Once you’ve seen a dozen or so pretty displays light up the sky, why do you need to see fifty (or a hundred) more? I’m all for freedom of expression, but why does your expression insist on invading my home? There’s no escaping it, save for a quick trip up to Canada. My dog is shaking, the cats are hiding, and my sleep is, at best, elusive. I don’t like it and I simply don’t get it.

So, this year, as every year, I will pray for rain, or at least a persistent drizzle.  Dampness and clouds and cool temperatures to quiet the cacophony of the night. Maybe not enough to cancel the potluck altogether, but just enough to quell the crazy. I’m a sucker for tradition, so perhaps I will make a flag cake and throw some chicken and corn on the grill. Make a toast to freedom and independence. A last-ditch effort to comfort the dog before I amble upstairs to bed, hoping for at least a few hours of uninterrupted sleep. You see, I’ll be teaching a yoga class at 6:00am the next morning.

Om shanti, everyone. Peace. (Please.)