Independence Day. Morose skies. Light showers won’t stop me from my going to the neighborhood swimming pool for my daily hour. The water is warm from the last two days of torrid sun. The lifeguards wear orange raincoats. Reminds me of my first Independence Day I spent on a rooftop in Washington DC, my hosts barbecuing stoically, clad in plastic ponchos and yellow raincoats thanks to the steady rain that couldn’t care less about celebratory parades and fireworks. The pioneer spirit I was told forbade them to go back to their cozy apartments. Brave the elements in the memory of their forefathers’ sacrifice for freedom.Quite noble sentiments. Well, this is how they play out in my East Harlem neighborhood: for the last three weeks or so I heard firecrackers in preparation of today’s celebration. Only when three detectives knocked on my door asking if I knew anything about the previous evening killing, I realized that those were gun shots not firecrackers. Then warning posters started to show up in the neighborhood, stationary police units with blasting light, like on a movie set.
Never mind. People in Manhattan wore the star spangled banner on their patriotic socks, patriotic T-shirts, patriotic caps, patriotic bathing suits. I asked Yusuf, the guy who sells merchandise on the corner, how many flags he expects to sell, because on Porto Rico parade day he sold about 500 at $2 each in two days! He said he didn’t have high hopes. I’m friends with him. Lately I’m working on my quarters coin collection, and each time I do the laundry I give him a $20 bill and he goes inside the deli and brings me coins, which coins I then sort into states and non-states/hawk. The hawk ones I use at the Laundromat, the states ones I take home and check my coin collection, do I have the respective state coin, and if I do is it in better shape, and which should I keep. Now I found out there is a D series and a P series. I have a full P series. The D series struggles along.
Anyway, along these transactions Yusuf tries to explain to me the magnificence of Muslimhood. He even bestowed on me a Koran in English. I shall read it in time. Right now he keeps Ramadan. He sits in the horrid hit with no water or food all day. His eyes are so hungry. I asked him if he’s hallucinating 77 virgins already. He laughs. I tell him, were I to be evil, I’d camp with all my friends around his chair and have a picnic to torture him while he fasts. He laughs that he shall prevail and he knows I’m not evil.
Well, am I? I swap books cross country and when I mail them I go to the post office. I have a bunch of bonsai tree forever stamps I don’t know why I bought them, stunted growth creeps me out, and so I want to use them all. Three times in a row I sent books as media mail and it always was $2.69, which is five forever stamps, now at 49 cents, makes 2.45 and I add a 27 cents stamp featuring fruits, which brings us to 2.72. I pointed out to the post person that USPS owes me 3 cents. She mightily said as if it was a rule written in the Constitution, that the USPS doesn’t give back money I paid on stamps. Why? It just is not their policy. But you are stealing for me each time three cents. Were I to put 3 cents less you don’t mail my package. This is crooked. She screams I should complain to the Federal Government. And wishes me a good day. JoAnn wishes me a hollered good day. JoAnn a government employee steals repeatedly 3 cents from me and wishes me a good day. What kind of people are these?! What kind of place is this?!
Luckily Yusuf listens to my sorrows, and always tells me what the Prophet thinks. In my case I should write it off as a sacrifice for the running of this democratic country. The Forefathers contributed with their blood. What is three cents nowadays?
I called a few friends around to congratulate them on garnering their independence. One celebrated it by cleaning her house from cat hair, the cat shedding her winter fur coat, another one was on a cruise in Alaska, another one in St. Petersburg visiting an amusement park he found touristy and baroque, and another one was enduring the pain from the shingles he had five years ago.
I wish you a grand Independence Day too.
New York July 4th, 2014