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Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Friday Challenge - 7/3/09

I woke this morning to the sounds of two highly intoxicated young men staggering down the street at 6:30 a.m., carrying on a loud conversation every third word of which was the F word. How young were they? I've become notoriously unable to judge the ages of people under 40 accurately, but I'd have guessed them as being no older than 19. What more got my attention though was their state of profound intoxication. They were in full staggering-in-circles-like-a-blimp-caught-in-a-cyclone stage, which at 6:30 a.m. is quite an achievement. Whatever they'd consumed, they must have consumed remarkable quantities of it. I base this assessment purely on BMI: one was merely tubby and flabby, while the other was downright morbidly obese.

So in place of waking up this morning thinking of some famous inspirational quote from Washington, Jefferson, Adams, or Paine, I instead found myself thinking of Dean Wormer. "Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son."

How did we get to this point? When did this day go from being Independence Day, our one great national holiday to celebrate being free Americans, to being the Fourth of July, an occasion for mattress sales, used car sales, consumer electronics sales, and above all, liquor store sales? When did this day become just another three-day weekend? (Which in my case means another three-day working weekend. I thought I'd cleared enough time in my schedule so that I could spend yesterday morning getting caught up on The Friday Challenge. I was wrong. Sorry about that.)

The past is a different country; they do things differently there. I remember marching in Independence Day parades in my hot, scratchy Cub Scout uniform, waving my little American flag and trying not to step in the horse poop. I remember being in the mob of boys scrambling to pick up the ejected brass when the old guys from the Legion post fired a salute, and men of all ages marching in uniforms of every kind, and kids and their parents making parade floats out of bikes, wagons, and long rolls of red, white, and blue crepe paper. I remember boring speeches in the park, and big brass bands playing Sousa marches, and lying in the damp grass at night, watching the fireworks bursting right overhead, which was very exciting until the wind shifted and the ash and cinders started coming down in our faces. (I also remember coming back to the same park early on the morning of July 5th, to look for all the change that had dropped out of the pockets of the people on the grass the night before. If you found a wallet, though, that was off-limits. You were obliged to return a wallet intact and hope for a reward. Only the real hoods filched the bills from the wallets and then pretended they'd found them that way.)

What I remember most strongly, though, was the ice cream. If you made it to the end of the parade route, you got your payoff: you got to take off your hat and neckerchief, and then you got a little cardboard cup of ice cream, and a silly little flat wooden spade-like thing they claimed was a spoon that came in a paper envelope and always snapped in half lengthwise as soon as you tried to use it. If you were really lucky, your scout leader had a decent camping cooler and remembered the ice this year, and the ice cream was still mostly frozen. If you were unlucky, you got creamy molten goo in a cup. If we had a choice, I always picked vanilla. The so-called chocolate flavor was a strange pale brown substance that tasted like no chocolate I'd ever had before, and not in a good way.

The past is a very different country. I can't remember the last time I saw a drum and bugle corps, or a marching band outside of a football stadium. My town doesn't even have an Independence Day parade anymore.

How did we get from there to here? When did we leave the old country? I'm not sure, but I think it happened about forty years ago. In July of 1969, it was still possible to be proud to be an American, without sarcasm, cynicism, or apologies. On July 4, 1969, we were still less than three weeks away from the Apollo 11 landing.

By July 4, 1976, we'd turned some sort of hidden corner. Sure, we tried to put on a good show about the Bicentennial, but there was a deep cynicism behind the bunting and rot behind the facade. By 1976, only fools and farmboys still found it possible to be patriotic Americans, and more people were probably thinking about the centennial of Custer's Last Stand than the bicentennial of the American Revolution. There was still a future out there, true, but it was no longer an American future. There was no end of doom and gloom just over the horizon: oil shortages, an economy in shambles, overpopulation, acid rain, famines, global cooling (I couldn't resist rubbing that one in), Soviet expansionism, and in the face of all that, a terrifying American incompetence and impotence. All intelligent, educated, and properly thinking peoples agreed that the age of individualism was over, and the future looked more like some form world government, probably along Euro-socialist lines.

And that is our point of departure for this week's Friday Challenge. Imagine it's now July 4, 2049. What does the world look like? What kind of holiday are we celebrating today?

Reunification Day, on which we celebrate ridding ourselves of that pesky American exceptionalism and humbly rejoining the community of responsible nations? Or Defeat Day, on which we celebrate a certain president's historic trip to Moscow, during which he stunned the world by apologizing for the Cold War and then unilaterally surrendering to Russia? Is today Oppressed People's Payback Day, the highlight of which is the ritual burning in effigy of an "Uncle Sam" cowboy at the big community bonfire tonight? Or is it perhaps even Dependence Day, on which we celebrate all the blessings of Mammon that Fearless Leader showers down upon we, the little people, who are too weak and foolish to know what's really in our own best interests?

Or is this, maybe, just perhaps, God willing, Blood of Tyrants Day?

Anyway, that's the challenge. The deadline is midnight Central time, Thursday, July 9—

Actually, no. That's just the deadline for written entries. The real deadline is July 4, 2049, because this is the real challenge, friends, and it never ends.

Have a safe and happy Independence Day, and may God bless America.
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