In which Citizen Jim arrives on July Fourth with firecrackers and stink bombs, only to find Chicken Sheets even less patriotic than she usually is.
I woke up not feeling very eager to be reflective on this Fourth of July – for reasons so depressing that, if I started listing them, would make me want to find a coil of rope, a sturdy tree limb, and someone willing to hoist me to a branch of said tree with said rope around my neck.
While formerly a celebration of our nation’s independence from England this day has turned into a rage-inducing reminder of our enslavement by capitalism, cronyism, nepotism, and every other -ism that tends to suck the soul of a nation into some black, churning void.
The only thing that could cheer me up on this day was the possibility of the wealthiest people on the planet colonizing the moon: I hope it’s for real; I hope it will be all of them; and I hope it will be within a year so that we can start wiping away their trail of slime as soon as possible.
Having the day off work was great, of course. I was kind of glad to not be spending the 242nd anniversary of vowing that we would never go in this direction with a bunch of people who probably had no complaints about the direction our country was, in fact, now going. I certainly wasn’t going to try and prove any points by subjecting myself to the frustration of that.
It was obvious I would need to stay away from the ideological minefield of Facebook on a day like today. The only safe place seemed to be lying in bed reading, and that’s what I aimed to do after I fed the cat.
Naturally, before I could finish making my plans God started laughing.
The next thing I knew Chrissy had leapt off the back of the comfy chair from where she usually surveyed her outdoor kingdom and scuttled under the bed: someone was throwing pebbles at the window facing the street. A moment later I heard gunshots at close range. No – not gunshots! It was firecrackers! Then I smelled it. Some asshat of a teenager, I presumed, was setting off firecrackers and lighting stink bombs right outside my house!
The state had made me powerless against the cynical, partisan vagaries of my government, while my government continued to make progress on their plans of totally disenfranchising the masses to serve the agenda of a wafer-thin slice of the population.
I had no direct control over any of this. But I could definitely march outside and insist that the little fucker with a cigarette lighter and a box of M-80s get off my lawn before I kicked his ass into next week!
“Damn! It’s about time!” said Citizen Jim as I stepped through my doorway into the yard. “I thought I was gonna hafta tie one of these firecrackers to a brick and bust your window to get your attention.”
Though I was glad I wouldn’t have to flog or horsewhip any children on this day, I wasn’t exactly thrilled that I would be dealing with Citizen Jim during a time when my psyche was so vulnerable.
“I can’t deal with you today,” I said.
“Well, that’s too bad, because I’m here for you to deal with,” said Citizen Jim. “Now get your swimsuit, Stimpy! We’re going to Chicken Bone Beach and we’re gonna jump about and frolic in the water and then we’re gonna see if we can’t hitch a ride on someone’s boat to watch the fireworks from the middle of the bay.”
I rolled my eyes.
“And don’t give me that crap about how you’re scared of fireworks,” he said. “That’s just anti-American bullshit you made up to avoid doing anything patriotic.”
Until he finished speaking I hadn’t even noticed that he was wearing a pair of American flag swim trunks, plus a striped t-shirt and flip-flops that were all red, white, and blue. All that was missing was a red Make America Great Again hat.
I just wanted to curl up in a fetal position and stay that way until the next election.
“I’m almost too depressed to write this story,” I said. “There’s no way I’m going anywhere with you today to do anything that has anything to do with July the Fourth and Independence Day and all that shit.”
“What the hell else is there to do on the Fourth of July? You can’t go the bank or the DMV or to the doctor,” he said. “You can’t even buy stamps at the post office! Now get your shit together and come on!”
“I’m not going to argue about this with you out here on the street. You can either go inside with me,” I said, pointing at the door, “or you can do me and the neighborhood a favor and go on your merry, patriotic way without me. As far as I’m concerned there’s nothing – not one thing – to celebrate about this particular country on this specific day at this terrifying point in time.”
“What in holy hell is wrong with you, now? You can’t possibly still be that mad about an election that happened almost two years ago! Get over it, Sister Kristy!”
I couldn’t be baited that easily.
“You know there’s a flesh-eating bacteria in the bay, right?” I asked. “Is that how you want to celebrate the so-called greatness of this godawful nation? By letting flesh-eating bacteria swarm all over your face and neck and chest and privates?”
“Flesh-eating bacteria? In Mobile Bay? Hahaha! I got three words for that!” Citizen Jim said, holding up four fingers. “FAKE NEWS!”
“But I saw it on channel 15 – that’s a Fox news station,” I said.
“Traitor! You hate Independence Day because you hate this country! Remember what your freshman homeroom teacher said to you when you wouldn’t say the pledge of allegiance back in 1984?”
I remembered very well what Joe Ross had said. I repeated it to Citizen Jim: “You don’t like this country? GET OUT! There’s planes leaving for Russia every day!”
“No collusion! There was NO COLLUSION!” he shouted, grabbing the sides of his head.
“Calm down, Hercules,” I said.
“Me? YOU need to calm down! You’ll be sorry you ever tried to use my own logic against me!”
I thought about the fact that on this date 13 years before I was writing a story about Citizen Jim and in that story I refused to even pretend I was happy living in a country that had elected George W. Bush for a second term as our president. This memory crashed against me like a wave of near-nostalgia and longing for simpler things to be enraged about.
How could I have ever foreseen how I would be feeling on Independence Day in 2018? How could anyone during that time look any distance into the future and surmise that one day the near-daily atrocities against democracy that were committed by the Bush-Cheney junta would morph into nail-biting terror on an hourly basis as we shuffled around with dread, wondering what new, awful insult our president had hurled at a close ally of our nation?
What new slur would he invent to belittle women, poor people, Democrats, the free press, minorities, immigrant children? What doom did he wish he could visit upon someone who publicly disagreed with him?
What punishment would he seem eager to serve up to those who called him what he was: a bully. A pathological liar. An anti-intellectual tyrant-in-training. A rube. A buffoon.
The glands which produce my anger and rage and hopelessness had burned out long ago, it seemed, back when George W. Bush was saying things like, “It’s just a goddamn piece of paper.” (He was referring to the Constitution.)
But something else had taken over and filled me with hotter rage, more explosive anger, a deeper and more profound sense of hopelessness than I had ever experienced before.
Fireworks after a barbecue on Independence Day? Fuck you!
Roast over a fire the pigs who had brought this new horror upon us and who weren’t even regretting it – nay: who were celebrating it! – a year and a half later.
Emboldened neo-nazis. Violent racists. Poor-haters. Race-baiters. Mouth-breathers. Gun-worshippers. A nation of fools led by an idiot, happily advancing toward their own extermination.
“Oh, Precious Lamb, let’s not fight about someone as stupid and awful as Donald Trump,” I said, trying to resist the temptation to let Trump bring out the very worst inside me.
“I’m gonna call Sean Hannity! I’m gonna tweet your treason to @realDonaldTrump! You can’t talk about the leader of the free world like that!”
“I didn’t say a word about Angela Merkel.”
This sent Citizen Jim running down the street screaming. “Show me the birth certificate! Her emails! FAKE NEWS! Fine people! He was the worst before I was! Ivanka! Pocahontas! Obama! SAD!” As the sound of Citizen Jim’s voice continued to recede, I took the opportunity to go back inside and lie down. Even if our national nightmare was poised to continue for a while longer, surely the day would be over soon.