originally posted at Coffeegrounds...
Canon EOS Elan 7ne, ISO 1600
In Red Bank, the town where I somehow am allowed to run amok, Independence Day is celebrated today, on July 3. All of the locals drag beach chairs or picnic tables to their postage stamp front yards and watch the fireworks while eating potato salad and chatting beneath the oily scent of citronella.
It's one of those holidays that also brings down thousands of out-of-towners, those who we on the shore refer to as "Bennies." We're not terribly fond of or nice to bennies, and that's probably unfair, as they bring money and spend it.... only there's a certain class of newly rich bennies that are set on making sure you know that they're gracing you with their money. Often, these bennies drive Hummer 2's and Cadillac Escalades. My brother, a waiter at one of the fifty thousand Italian restaurants in Red Bank, has noticed that bennies are easily identifiable by the fact that, when told that the restaurant is BYOB because it lacks a liquor license, they will ask, indignantly "Why!?" as though it were a personal insult.
I complain about the bennies, and I know they'll swarm around my town like pudgy, sunburned locusts today, but they're as much a part of the place as I am. And, well, they're as much a part of the nostalgia I have for Independence Day (along with Christmas and Thanksgiving, my three favorite holidays). Pushing through crowds, a sausage-and-pepper sandwich in a paper napkin, the cordite smell of fireworks, the distant sounds of rock and roll made before I was born.
If I drove down to Sandy Hook, paid the five dollars to get into Gateway National Recreation Area, I could peer into the summer haze and see the Statue of Liberty, and know that near there is an island where my family came in order to escape the Nazis and the Soviets. The grandparents bought bad synthetic knit shirts that pulled taut over their bellies - the ones that they developed with pride in this new land of good jobs and police that didn't make people disappear - and their sons met, then exceeded, the grandparents expectations, with one becoming a CEO, another a professor at Princeton, and a third becoming a judge. It was with the grandchildren - my peers - that things got a little crazy, but three generations are sufficient fodder for a little rebellion, and I'm sure my grandfather, had he outlasted his stay in a Stalag for more than six months, would have looked on in amusement.
We all grew up with love for that something about this country that we couldn't really put into words, even obliquely. Strange glints were seen in our eyes when we shared barbecue chicken and watery American lagers at summer barbecues, the children playing in a pool in which my uncle had hand-painted a picture of Snoopy surfing. Contented, slack-faced gazes stared down from couches and the plastic seats at Shea Stadium when my father's generation discovered the ultimate in Americana: baseball and a love for the underdog. Eye-clenching ecstasy took my cousin by surprise when he discovered that rock-and-roll really could save his soul. He's a thirty-something father of two now, still rockin' out with the band, a successor in interest to the Ramones and the rest of the sloppy punk scene of 1970s New York City. I lost my breath, then my heart, to the mountains and deserts of Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Wyoming. I was seduced by the west, by the cowboy, the Navajo and the ghosts of the Anasazi, by the mountain men of the past and the naturalists of the present.
So, it's a big day for me. I'm going to head down to the water now, camera strapped around my shoulder and sausage-and-pepper sandwich in hand (albeit briefly) and watch couples with baby carriages and sore shoulders from carrying a toddler on their neck prepare the next generation for its love affair with America. We'll stand together while the toddlers dribble soft serve ice cream on their fathers' heads. I'll watch the next generation slowly catch on to the love affair that has taken three generations of men in my family. Here's to them falling in love too.