The Fourth of July is Seattle’s cool flavor of warm, bright with a light wind. Instead of the traditional drizzly, fog-bound day with fireworks later invisible in the murk, summer starts a day early. It’s a leap year, someone later observes. The day is quiet: no roar from my neighbor the freeway, no Waste Management trucks roaring up my street. Kids straggle by in the brilliant sun, dressed in black and expensive athletic shoes. I wonder what they go to when there is no school.
Productivity maintains: I do some writing and wire an electrical outlet in the attic, fixing something no code inspector will ever bother checking. It’s warm in there, shadowy, surrounded by white fiberglass snow. It’s easy, straightforward work: discrete and achievable. I am much busier when I don’t have to look busy.
Afternoon brings the standard suburban block party: cul de sacs of evergreens and houses with giant garages, lawn chairs set up on the driveway facing a line of charcoal and gas grills tended by men in knee-length shorts and polo shirts distending over the prows of their guts. The women are pretty, tending to children, suffused with the eternal good-natured fatigue of mother women. The Korean host provides fortified rice wine which I can’t differentiate from paint thinner. The food is endless and good. There is the minor calamity of my friend’s kid falling off her bike, which my friend handles with expert care and assurance. Approximately four hundred bucks worth of reservation-bought fireworks is brought out. A wheelbarrow is used, stacked high with bright packages the size of tabletops. The men like this; the women seem doubtful but resigned. What we must put up with to get children….
My friend removes us for the municipal fireworks. Despite budget cutbacks and grim economics, it seems each little town has the money for its own display. We are taken to Newcastle’s, to a park near the lake. A band plays Sammy Hagar and Meat Loaf, the lead singer in a glittery silver shirt who spends most of his time locating the parents of lost children that have wandered forward to see the band and not be reunited.
Fireworks were otherworldly, impossible, fascinating, a siren song of brilliance and waiting injury as a child. I can remember watching them entranced, wondering how to somehow get inside the light, to live inside luminescent burning. Fireworks stands appeared along every Texas county road offering M80s and worse, every bit of crumbly cardboard promising stellar delight. There wasn’t enough money to buy them all. I could feel the colors in there as someone’s older brother helped you hold a Roman candle, the power’s solid kick as the balls flew out and up. To be so close to such color was to become its power.
Now fireworks are splendid but not a religious experience. They are remarkable for their brevity. Watching them is an opportunity to practice the Tao.
Can you cleanse your inner vision
until you see nothing but the light?
I realize when fireworks were magic, even at night it was hot, the ground pulsing with heat. Here, in adulthood, we are wrapped in blankets and I wear a jacket, zipped-up. I am not in the heat of the magic, but distance is a cool comfort that understands more.
Fifth of July is bleary internally, bright externally. The heat layers itself like the thick of summer, or what passes for heat in Seattle. I have calls and do some management work for my friend’s upcoming show, to happen in New York this August. We meet for a walk, where walk is made into an epic 2 1/2 hour jaunt up and down hills and along Seattle’s houseboat row.
We wonder where people get the money for this stuff. Is this the one percent? The one-tenth of one percent? They are not here to ask, no doubt off skiing the Alps.
Improv class in the evening is flat and dreamlike, interrupted by the doorbell and our low-energy flailing. After class I get free beer the bartender mis-poured and we talk quietly in high, uncomfortable chairs, performers for the eight-thirty show occasionally walking through us. Classmates appreciate the challenge but seem out of sorts, hitting the wall of synthesis and integration: all the previous classes are coming together, now forced into a disciplined structure. The fire is starting but we are blowing hard on the embers.
The beer and a half does wonders for a lightweight like me. I float with the crew up through the Market, motes of tourists drifting in dandelion puffs. The sun is behind the mountains and the heat is evaporating into twilight clear.
This morning breaks clear and quiet, former coworkers reporting the roads light, park-and-rides half-full. The sun is a field, a timeless clothing, a living unconscious thing.
Thirty years ago light like this had us quiet in kitchens, making toast and pouring milk with cartoons turned low to not wake Mom. The light was spectral, so low to the ground carpet fibers sparkled. Outside, the suburban world was silent, the fathers gone to work, the world paused. To free it, we had to run. So we did.
It is important to remember not all running is running away.