(Editor’s note: CTN Columnist Bob Vickrey wrote yesterday, “This is a great Fourth of July column and you should run it.” The column by Chris Erskine, who worked at the L.A. Times for 30 years and retired in May, is spot on and we’re happy to share it. To read more by Erskine, visit: chriserskinela.com.)
By CHRIS ERSKINE
So these un-United States celebrate a birthday today.
What timing. They’ve closed the honkytonks and the beaches. The lifeguards are all sick, and I hear two clerks at our local 7-Eleven have also come down with COVID.
A couple weeks ago they robbed the place. Now it’s a haz-mat site.
Apparently, this is the July Fourth when America threw away the key. The ballyards are all off-limits, the movie theaters are all locked.
I miss all the little things of early July – jellyfish stings, hangovers, hot tubs. I miss tubas waddling down parade routes like baby elephants.
I miss damp towels sleeping in the sun.
I miss the creak of theater seats and the sounds of Coke straws tromboning against plastic lids … of kids unable to sit still once the movie starts.
I miss love-crazed couples kissing in public, like they’re sharing lunch. Like two condors splitting a pizza.
I miss the pre-concert hum of the Hollywood Bowl, of a wine glass breaking, of licks of laughter, of melodies and key changes and oboes, piccolos … especially French horns.
If God sang, it would sound like French horns.
All is not lost. July Fourth seems our laziest holiday anyway. To be honest, I always dreaded the parking.
July Fourth can still be a day of hammocks and drinks with mint in them, barbecue sauce in your cuticles, a kernel of sweet corn in your front teeth.
When I worked in New Orleans, we once did a feature where the reporter asked folks on the street what July Fourth actually celebrated.
One sweaty lad said dirt-biking. Another said sleeping off a 12-pack.
And they were all correct. July Fourth is when America acts like America.
I was thinking the other morning how different things might have been if King George had given the Colonies a rep in Parliament? Or spent time in New England, pacifying the revolutionaries, hearing their demands, maybe gone on “Good Morning Boston!” to tell a few funny stories.
After all, better communication is the first step toward solving standoffs. Obviously, King George didn’t handle the media very well.
This is July Fourth, a reminder of how wars once brought us together, instead of dividing us, as they do today.
What changed? Snippy, digital modes of discourse for one thing. Plus political agendas that are either too far one way or too far the other.
Remember when there was a middle?
Look, what do I know? It’s early July and I’m just trying to keep the front yard a little moist in the mornings, before everything crusts over. In July, it seems all I can grow are sprinkler heads and thistles.
Besides, I’ve always had gaps in my understanding of the world. I could never really tell Andy Warhol from Debbie Harry, or Cameron Diaz from Owen Wilson.
Most days, I can’t tell a sno-cone from a potato.
But I do sense Americans are all a little ground down right now, a little tired, and shredded and losing our most-prized virtue: Hope.
The French have Champagne and c’est la vie. We have hope.
Look, we’re never at our best when we are exhausted. But out of small defeats come courage and resolve. Maybe even unity, though we’re not seeing much of that lately. Nor courage. Nor resolve.
There are some days I’d rather get rabies than read another troubling front page, or climb aboard social media, where so many of us live and seethe.
These days it seems the more we talk, the more we fight.
As seen on TV, we are a nation of pinwheeling eyes and bared teeth. Online, there is a new genre of video: gross misbehavior.
Everything is debated. If I tweeted that the sky looked especially blue, 400 morons would argue that it’s actually a little pink, then question my heritage, my eyesight, my sanity, or insist I hate all skies.
I think that too often lately, we’re taking our unhappiness out on others. Disrespect solves nothing. It’s why the shortstop punches the second baseman, why schnauzers snap at collies.
Yet, has America ever been any different?
Since 1776, we have been a spirited and bare-knuckled nation. We move too quickly, are governed by base impulse and the needs of the moment. By turns, we are either too provincial or too worldly.
Wow, what a place…what a splendid, cantankerous experiment. What an outlandish ideal in desperate need of a little hug.
Happy birthday, America.
Light a candle. Kiss a Karen. Take a breath.
The cake is in the oven.