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The Fourth of July on Bradenton Beach
It was a long weekend, which was how we wanted it, and how it always goes, but still it was taxing—Friday felt like Sunday, and Sunday like next Tuesday. And in the end it had the same vacant impression of a lucid dream, but dreamed in real-time and on mute, and remembered by some speed freak circus clown who earlier in life was a respectable citizen, but left it all behind because he thought he might like the makeup, and it turned out he was right.
And people make these decisions every day in America, and in other places—Priests become hustlers, and students join the holy war, and who is to say what’s finally right and wrong in the end, when it all comes crashing down?
Why not me? After all, I was given access to this newspaper many months ago, and no one has seemed to really mind so far. In fact, it keeps going further and further, and still no big refute. Some are actually pleased, and so perhaps Bob Dylan was right. Perhaps they all were. But enough on that. Now is not the time to discuss Dylan, or anyone else who may or may not have been onto something big in this Western cosmic confederacy. On the other hand, Dylan does sound pleasant right now—his strange pitches and pointed raps feeling like rusty guitar string wisdom in my scratchy MacBook speakers, and he certainly got a lot of things right, so maybe it is time for the Poet, but I don’t know—It would be a lot to cover in one sitting.
And either way, I do know that this weekend was all fireworks and mortars and cocktails in the night, and so let’s take that road—as I recall, it was full of champions, and right now that sounds good. And it was good; the days were long and hot and full of bikinis like we knew they would be, so it was important to keep the coolers stocked and to always be near a swimming pool. When it gets too hot and too thirsty with no swimming in the sweaty summertime coastal swamp of South Florida, things are liable to turn ugly—and in times like these, ugliness is unacceptable; it is raw beauty, or nothing—and especially during Fourth of July Weekend, when it all gets hotter than Hell.
I was looking for anything to do Friday afternoon when I heard about a pool party some friends were having on Bradenton Beach. Traffic on Cortez Road was heavy, so at the 119th Street traffic light I turned right and cut through Harbour Landings, on the bay, and managed to pass a good heap of cars. Then I slid across the bridge at a cool 15mph—much faster than one would expect to cross on the 4th.
The left turn at Gulf Drive revealed the red white and blue tornado that tore through America this weekend, like it has annually for the last 238 years. It is a vicious sucker, with a mean punch and a great sense of humor. Probably it starts in the Gulf of Mexico, in waterspout form, and comes on shore by the BeachHouse Restaurant with timeless style. Then, as we know, the tornado bounces spastically and with great wrath in all directions. But it is a good wrath—like Miley Cyrus, or the hippies.
The whole Bradenton Beach scene was red white and blue: popping off the sidewalks like PopTart sprinkles, sprinkling up the beach and road in perfect popping stripes and white stars, twinkling flat and fanning, blowing off the ends of flagpoles gracefully and stomping flopping all around and spread out on the beach a thousand times and strapped across a thousand half naked American bodies everywhere! The independence independents of Bradenton Beach! So ready for the national surge! So mad and unconcerned
There was an inkling of the country in everything: the patriotic American flag Happy Fourth of July just-bought-em-for-the-weekend flip-flops and towels, and t-shirts, shorts and shades—cheap $4.99 snagged ‘em off the spinning rack gas station shades, bought along with the summertime holiday cardboard beer flag boxes of red white and blue-all-the-time cans and bottles of Pabst and Bud, and the red aluminum Bud Light bottles with vertical white stars, lined along the suction-cup inside-shelves of every glass refrigerator door on the beach—and bathing suits and styrofoam coolers, with red plastic handles, and hats, bandanas, scarves, bracelets, American flag Converse All Star HiTop Chuck Taylor sneakers, with the high top part rolled down, exposing the ankles, and all the young people with the Spring Break college gear—the even more disposable towels and shades and sandals, got ‘em free from the shot girl three months ago in Panama City—and the itty bitty teenie weenie call-it-a-thong-on-a-long-day bikinis, riding the longest legs and hardly noticeable, below the highest crop-tops & chopped up tank tops, or the cheerleader shorts, or some trendy one-piece thing from American Apparel or whateva, and no less than three thongs worn on the Thursday beach—and we’re talkin’ the real deal here, Chief: American flagism freed from the whipping post, man, keep your eyes on the road!
I parked my car first chance I got and skated to the party. It was in the backyard of a small condominium building, four streets away. Not a bad stretch, but my kitbag was heavier than usual, and the sun was very hot, and I felt it for every high-speed second spent in the bicycle lane, which was smoother than the sidewalk and so preferable, as far as riding is concerned. I remember cars honking at me; probably they were impressed.
By the time I reached the party I was drenched. Sweat poured steadily from my brow, and burned my eyes. I felt the pain unraveling me from my core, at an unyielding and unmerciful pace. It was so goddam’d-hot; the only thing to do was bust through the picket fence gate and strip down to trunks en route to the pool, and fall in.
When I did this I left a trail of clothing like some teenage girl getting ready for prom, and no one seemed to notice. I didn’t notice them either.
I knew the water in the pool would be good—refreshing and cool; the kind of thing that could pull me out of the heat. What I didn’t know was the water in the pool was hot—about as hot as the air, in fact—and the opposite of good and refreshing. When I went under I didn’t think I would make it back up. I could hardly move, let alone swim. And if the pool hadn’t turned out to be shallow—only 7 ft. in the center—I likely would have drowned.
I planted my feet and stood up, and was able to breathe through my nose without much trouble. But I’d reached a social fork-in-the-road, so to speak: I could play the whole thing off, and act like the pool water felt good; or I could make it to that outside shower by the backdoor quick as possible—and really, that was all I could do.
I emerged with a desperate expression, and wiped the water from my eyes and used everything I had to grab hold of the round-brick coping and spring from the pool with reckless abandon and no tact at all. I made it to the poolside cement and stood there, dripping on my discarded jeans. I went for the shower and dripped fat droplets along the way, on my shirt and shoes and bag. The bag was opened partially, and I noticed the end of my computer charger sticking out of the hole. The once-white-now-grimy/gray charger-end was inches away from a puddle, and the puddle had presumably resulted from a conglomeration of several droplets that’d fallen from my gasping self and the disconcerting nature of the whole dilemma was magnified by my guilt.
This was a stinging bummer. I was still sweating, and now dripping conglomerating-droplets of hot tropical cauldron water: charger ruining Florida condo backyard swimming pool death liquid—and then I was under the shower head with the water that only runs cold running cold all over me, saving me, and the cold water felt good and refreshing and I glanced back, every so often, to check the status of the vulnerable computer charger tip.
It looked like they were carrying a plastic, royal blue coffin, that ice was spilling out of— It was quite an operation, getting the cooler from the party to the BeachHouse Restaurant by foot, in time to see the fireworks at 9 p.m. The fireworks are big every year. Many people come out for the show, and it’s always a dream.
“I’ve been coming since I was born,” said one student wearing a red white & blue tie-dyed t-shirt, emblazoned with a fading image of a bald eagle. The eagle was large, and it covered most of the shirt— “Or as long as it’s been since the first time my daddy brought me here,” he went on. “I’ve been coming every year since that.”
A blonde girl tucked her head through the guy’s armpit, so his arm was now hooked around her, like she was his sweetheart, and she raised her big foamy clear plastic Guy Harvey Tervis Tumbler—that had a snook on it—and shouted “Fourth of JU-LY, Woooo!” and her drink sloshed all over my shoulder. Luckily, I wasn’t wearing a shirt. It was long gone, somewhere between Heaven and Hell in the trashed laser-burned memories from the party. It was a good shirt, but I wasn’t worried about it—I had a feeling it would turn up.
I had a few anxious feelings leftover from the party. For example, we never got the ice-block to put in the swimming pool, like we’d decided was absolutely necessary; and in the final hour all those boxes of beers had become a looming disarray of patriotic garbage. On Facebook some girl’d posted a picture of a SVEDKA VODKA bottle that was designed with an American flag theme, for the holiday, and some dude’d already left a Smart Aleck comment, like 2 minutes after she’d posted the photo, and so I clicked “like” on the photo, mainly in protest, because I dig the Swedes and don’t see a reason why anyone ought’a be left out of the Big Grab that was happening this weekend. Don Draper would make a killing on the 4th of July in 2014. And why shouldn’t he? And why shouldn’t SVEDKA? After all, the people want their vodka, and on certain days they want to pour it from American flag bottles, which is good—especially for the youngsters: We must teach them their History—
Jesus, it really was a long weekend. I can always tell when the sentences flash at me from the screen—it means I’ve been writing for too long, and I should probably take a break ... Go outside by the pool, and lay around a bit ... throw the dog his ball, smoke some cigarettes ... Feel the air
But this rambling nonsense is due in three hours and 21 minutes, and I can hardly see the light at the end of the tunnel. So no time for breaks, and no excuses—because the light is there—I can see it, so bare with me. And we’ll just have to smoke a few cigarettes inside today.
—As far as fireworks are concerned, the 3rd of July is the best night to really dig them, at the BeachHouse Restaurant . The people are still full of steam on the 3rd—righteous steam—and nobody is too sunburned yet. Come evening on the 4th, almost all of the celebrators I was currently standing with would be red and flushed, and chafed and raw—groping their ways violently along the sidewalks, and up and down the roads and waterways, behind the wheels of cars and boats. That blistery version of Key West drunk that only comes when one has been drinking for so long that, in a great effort to compensate, the neural receptors begin to evolve, and the drunk becomes a benevolent monster.
This is a very difficult form to manage, and it is typically best to not even try. The police know this, but they’d never say as much—not officially, anyway.
One cop I spoke with told me that 4th of July weekend is his favorite weekend, because he isn’t really expected to do much. “It’s kind of like the public gets a free pass to run amok for a few days,” he told me. “It’s like the Chief always says: ‘Let ‘em wear themselves out, and then arrest the stragglers.’ Usually the stragglers are the ones we want anyways—usually they’re the ones with the drugs.”
“Right,” I said, and wrote down the quote. I made a mental note to not allow myself to become a straggler, for any reason at all, and then I went to check on the progress of the boys with the cooler. The fireworks were about to start, and I was thirsty.
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