Tuesday, July 05, 2005

up on a roof

it is well past twilight on the 4th of july, and we are on top of coiledsoul's apartment building in koreatown, seeking out whatever meta-fireworks experience we can get with a 270-degree view of the city from about 8 stories up. the horizon to the north, east, and south is already beginning to pop with color, muted around the edges by a damp fog. closer at hand, the entire neighborhood explodes in random spurts; everyone seems to be well-armed with poppers, m-80s, strobes, rockets, and numerous other flashy things both great and small. and any space -- an apartment-building courtyard, a corner-store parking lot, or even just an unoccupied stretch of sidewalk -- will do as a launch site.

CS is shivering a little in her tank top, but she's from texas, so she ain't gonna complain. i am toasty-warm in my gray cabled hoodie and corduroy jacket, b/c i am an angeleno, and there's nothing more l.a. than needing layers for the roof in the middle of summer. CS, 00soul, and i have brought our drinks; the boisterous bunch of young men hanging out in the opposite corner have their contraband rockets. we mingle easily, laughing when the super threatens repeatedly to call the cops. sure. they'll be right over.

i sip my two-buck chuck and look around at the city, trying to follow the fleeting speckles of red, white, blue, purple, silver, gold, and green. we are all waiting for something to happen, something more organized and visible than these random distant bursts. i am thinking about the patriotism-neutral party 00soul and i went to the day before, a lovely affair that proved strangely hollow. i don't care to sit around rhapsodizing about how great is the u.s.a. (hardly), but i don't think i heard a single conversation about anything much deeper than brian wilson's state of mind, turning 40, and the state of the la weekly's music coverage. all important issues, to be sure, but it just felt like ... i dunno. i just kept waiting for someone to start talking about the war or the supreme court vacancy or the restraining-order ruling or the new mayor. of course, it's not like i brought any of that up. i didn't want to harsh anyone's mellow. so ... maybe it was a collective moment of denial. these days battle fatigue can set in just from keeping up with the news. or reading between the lines.

and as i look round and round -- north to hollywood and los feliz, west to hancock park, south to exposition park -- i feel love for my city, but loss for this nation. what are we celebrating? the sky grows darker, and the fireworks keep popping -- poofy clusters, glittery showers, comet-trail bursts. these independence day displays are a symbolic reminder of the battles fought to liberate the u.s. and establish this nation. and i can't help thinking that the bombs bursting in air over there, in iraq, mean something very different to their people right now.

it's like, the disconnect b/w what we think we are, and what we really are -- or what we are becoming. what are we becoming? this is a question i ask a lot. freedom of religion used to also mean freedom from religion; now the religious demand we all follow their script. freedom of the press has been made all but irrelevant by the administration's maneuvering and the media's own shameful capitulation. the noble idea that part of government's duty is to protect the minority has been replaced by the world-famous "if you're not with us, you're against us." the whole entire lie of the war has been exposed, and now most people think it wasn't worth it. great, the people finally understand. now what?

maybe, as some darkly hint, this great experiment in democracy, the u.s. of a., has failed -- ironically, just as we are poised to spread it around the world. the democracy bush wants to shove down others' throats is a dark parody of the real thing. freedom is slavery, indeed.

and now maybe the u.s.a. spirals toward entropy, as all things do. i don't tend to get terribly red, white, and blue about my country, although on the 4th of july i usually do reflect that america is a wonderful, if messy, place. right now, however, i don't even know how i feel about it. i try to separate my country 'tis of thee from those who would take it for their own. but in some ways i feel it is a done deal, and maybe the will of the people -- poll results be damned -- is at odds with my own. but does that mean i can't be an american anymore? (at what point will it mean i don't wish to be one anymore?) i fear both the nation and the people's will are being irrevocably changed for the worse. i want to believe the people have had their taste of war without end, and don't much like it, and will doubtless continue to like it less. and maybe there will be more resistance thanks to this shared sense of outrage, which now crosses party lines, "red"/"blue" state lines, all those fences the powers that be emphasize and reinforce to keep us divided. i try always to look at "us" and "them" as the powerless versus the powerful, and not "the people i wouldn't share a beer with" vs. my cabernet-loving ass. but it's hard.

OTOH, i probably wouldn't share a beer with this unruly bunch on the roof, and we seem to be getting along ok, laughing at the illicit fun of their sneaky rocket-launches, speculating on when some really good fireworks will start.

finally, a nearby country club fires up its extravaganza. the rockets' red glare, at last! all of us gaze in happy awe at the shimmering bursts of color above the palm-tree-fringed horizon. peripheral flashes from other celebrations still make a sparkly ring around the basin, but this is our finale. when it's done, i turn and look at the cityscape; the fog has deepened, and all the fireworks have smeared the sky with smoke. our roof-mates ratchet up the sizzle and pop, so we trundle back down the stairs to CS's living room, get the less nervous cat stoned on catnip, jump occasionally when a really loud explosion goes off in the street, and watch a couple episodes of penn and teller's bullshit on showtime. weirdly, or something, the first episode is about 9/11 conspiracy theorists.

but my mind is still on the roof, on the haze of the horizon. when i was a child i had a dream that scared the hell out of me -- the first really bad dream i remember. it was fairly abstract, although i can still vividly recall it: a wide view of a distant horizon, the land darkening swiftly, and, cracking through, an ominous jagged line of orange-red fire. a sense of gathering horror i really couldn't fully comprehend, of light slowly being extinguished. it is the perfect image now, in these all-too-interesting times, when there is no light at the end of the tunnel and the darkness keeps right on creeping in.

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