The wife and I didn’t do much this 4th of July. No boozy trips to San Diego. No getting married. Rather, in a fit of domesticity, we started the day gardening. My neighbor recently said something to me, as we were both out in our front yards pulling weeds, that stuck with me: “Gardening seems to be more about killing the things you don’t want in your yard, rather than nurturing the things you do want.” Indeed. While I frequently receive compliments from passers-by on the beauty of our garden, the damn thing is more work than I signed up for. Weeds, watering, dead-heading of the 25 or so rose bushes out front, and don’t get me started on the damn Bermuda grass. And that’s just the front yard. As we “inherited” the garden from the previous owner, it’s tempting to just let it all go to hell then use its hellish appearance as an excuse to rip it all out and start over. I don’t know if it’s some deep-seated set of gardening values implanted in my brain via the two summers of landscaping work in college or what, but I just can’t seem to let it go. So I water, and I weed, and I maintain the roses and curse at the Bermuda grass.
While toiling in the yard, we waffled back and forth about whether to go into San Francisco for a BBQ. On one hand, plopping our butts on the couch with season 3 of Deadwood greatly tempted us, but the thought of the 4th without a BBQ started to feel overwhelmingly unpatriotic so off to the city we go.
Ah, the general craziness of mass transit. The BART train into SF was standing room only so we found empty space near the doors in front of the last row of seats. At first I barely noticed the elderly looking lady occupying those seats, until she began talking. To her bag of groceries. I think she was one of those people who carries on conversations with you, without actually looking at you, and regardless of if you acknowledge them or not. She discussed my wife’s shoes, the racists on the train (I could not locate them), the state of the country, etc. All in all, a harmless somewhat crazy person.
At the next station a black dude with a mouth full of teeth desperately needing braces and a snazzy leather jacket got on the train, strutted down the center aisle and grabbed an overhead bar. All the while, jabbering away nonstop on his Bluetooth headset. Shortly, I, and everyone within earshot, became aware of the following facts: He’s going to some 4th of July breakdancing contest a friend is hosting but first has to stop by his house to pick up his old school breakdancing duds. Yes, he’s going to win it, as he has extensive breakdancing props to his name, including:
- Many competition wins. “I went to Chicago, they couldn’t beat me. I went to New York, they couldn’t beat me. I went to LA, they couldn’t beat me.”
- Video creds! “You know the guy with the high-top fade in the 1993 MC Hammer video? You’re lookin’ at him.” You're looking at him? Who says that to someone on the phone? This is our first hint that perhaps he’s a bit crazy.
He also knows many many many people in the music industry. If there was a “playa” name he didn’t drop, I missed it. Snoop, Dre, yes, even Diddy. They all know him and request him in their videos. Because, you know, all of the breakdancing going on in today’s hip hop vids.
At this point he’s been talking nonstop for about 5 straight minutes and we’re seriously beginning to doubt if anyone is actually on the other end of the phone. If they are, they’re either asleep or have put the phone down to go make a sandwich. (Tangential story: In college, my roommate Andy was planning his wedding. His mother-in-law would call ALL THE TIME to blather on and on about the napkins, flowers, and everything and anything having to do with the wedding. One day my other roommates and I were watching TV while poor Andy was stuck in the kitchen talking to her on the phone (none of us were rich enough to have one of those new fangled fancy “cordless” phones). Suddenly, Andy walks in and sits down. “Wow, that was a fast one, Andy, did you hang up on her or something?” “Nah,” he says, “I just put the phone down on the counter. I bet if I go back in there she’ll still be blabbing away and not even know I was gone.” He sits and watches TV with us for another minute or two, after which we all follow him back into the kitchen. He picks up the phone and gives us the thumbs up. We were in awe. Both at his scrotal fortitude in taking the risk of being caught doing that to his mother-in-law, and the absolute completeness of her self-absorbed conversation. I mean, most people at least expect to hear a bored “uh huh” every so often, right?). This guy, he's doing the same thing, so we’re pretty sure this guy is somewhat crazy, although he’s dressed pretty well. Just another harmless crazy person.
In order to cement in our brains his reason for being on the train with us, he once again mentions the 4th of July breakdancing contest, but adds further that he considers it just a warm up for the big contest coming up in LA. He’s going to go down and stay with a friend in LA and “win this thing”.
At this point Ms. “Talks to Her Groceries” chimes in and says, “Well, you better call him first or he’s going to have a real big surprise when you show up.” Wait, is she talking to Mr. Breakdancer? I think she is! I think she’s telling him to call his friend in LA before he goes down there to visit. Now this is getting interesting. We have crazy Bluetooth breakdancer having a conversation with the grocery talker, but neither of them knows it. Ah, the serendipity of public transit.
He continues to blather on into his headset and she continues her end of the “conversation” for another station or two. When we get to West Oakland, he announces, “Ok, I gotta step off. Catchya.” And gets off the train. This “I gotta step off” comment pretty much solidifies our belief his conversation existed solely between him and Ms Groceries. If you’re having a (normal) cell phone conversation, do you really say goodbye to people on the train as you get off? Usually, no. It’s not out of the question he was talking to someone, but I seriously doubt it. Apparently, wearing a Bluetooth headset is the modern way of disguising the fact that you're unbalanced.
The fireworks themselves were exciting. Between BBQing in the Mission district of SF, then going home to Oakland, I think we hit the two places most active in illegal fireworks activity. Both places sounded as if we were in a World War II battle zone. The nearby firecrackers provided the rata-tat-tat-tat of close range small arms fire while the larger, more distant aerial pyrotechnics resembled the mortar fire and bombing runs. Not that I’m AT ALL versed in what a real battle zone sounds like. The closest I’ve come to a true battle zone is watching Band of Brothers in surround sound. But, hey, were I to find myself in an actual battle field, the first thing I might think to myself after I stop whimpering in my foxhole and repeatedly soiling myself is, “Hey, this sounds like the 4th of July in Oakland!” If anything, this is probably a more realistic representation of what the Revolutionary War sounded like, as opposed to sitting in a stadium watching 150 people with painted faces arrange themselves on the field to look like the American flag and sing “Proud to Be an American”.
On the 5th of July, during my lunch break, as I exited my favorite deli, sandwich in hand, a TV reporter and her camera man stopped me. She wanted to ask me “a few questions about the fireworks last night”. Ok, sure. This could be my big break! She was a very angry woman. She tried very hard to goad me into anger regarding the fireworks the previous night. I responded with, “Well, other than setting off my car alarm once or twice, I don’t really mind it so much.” “So, you think they should just be allowed to set off these illegal fireworks whenever they want?” Trapped. “Um…” I sputtered, “no, I, uh, well…good question. I, um, just think that there are other, more serious, crimes the police should be focusing on.” Then she tried to get me to keep talking by not saying anything (the old therapist trick!) but I kept silent and she thanked me, took down my vitals, and I went on my way.
What do I wish I had said? How about what came to me a few hours later: “It’s not so much the fireworks that bother me, it’s the blatant flaunting of the law. Everyone knows they’re illegal, everyone knows it’s illegal to set them off, yet it seems fireworks are going off on every block. It’s not the fireworks themselves, it’s these peoples’ blatant disregard for the law and their complete confidence that they will not be caught. That’s what bothers me the most. It’s not the fireworks. It’s what they say about the state of law and order in our city.”