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Syndic Literary Journal


Fourth of July


Nitin Jagdish

Fireworks disgust me.  Picnic food petrifies me.  Parks suffocate me. 

I react to patriotism the way polite citizens react to ugly couples kissing publicly.  

I confess, without blushing, to being an American writer rather than a global one.  I confess, without blushing, to harboring a fascination with the uniquely abstract nature of this nation.  And yet, I have no desire to publish airbrushed and quotable prose on the meaning of America or my relationship with it. 

I should not write a Fourth of July story. 

My better half says, though, “For once in your life take a look at the world around you.  The way 2020 is shaping up, this could be the last chance for anyone to wish America a happy birthday.”

So here we are.  

What to write?

The obvious answer is “a fairy tale.” According to the latest developments in the science of aesthetics, fairy tales are vehicles for political allegory whose brakes never fail.  The whimsy of children’s literature paradoxically lends a gravitas to the writer’s political concerns.  When readers meet the evil stepfather and his runty spawn in my fairy tale, they’ll know I have deep and meaningful things to say about America in 2020.  

America began as a noble experiment.  We can acknowledge the Founding Fathers’ original vision excluded many from political power, and we can acknowledge America rarely has lived up to its ideals.  Only a knee-jerk scold, though, could fail to be even a wee bit dazzled by the idea of an Enlightenment-based republic dedicated to preserving its citizens’ rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  And yet…

America has been perverted by people who believe strange and cruel things and call it logic.  They believe profit motive is the founding principle of this country.  They believe all is well when Wall Street presses its knees into the necks of government and civil society.  They believe those who need help don’t deserve it.  In our house, we call these people “cash-holes.”

I still don’t know what to write. Maybe a word association game will help. 

I’ll say “the Peoples Temple.”

You’ll probably say “Jonestown,” “evil,” “mass murder and suicide,” or “Kool-Aid.” If you fetishize precision, you’ll probably say “Flavor Aid” instead of “Kool-Aid.”

That’s fair.  And yet…

Before stooping into a rancid splendor and then irredeemable darkness, Reverend Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple stood for something noble.  Once upon a time Reverend Jones, a former door-to-door monkey salesman, was the closest thing to a Yankee liberation theologian. Once upon a time the Peoples Temple advocated for social justice and racial equality.  Once upon a time the Peoples Temple cared for the poor, the sick, and the elderly.   

COVID-19 has infected over 2 million Americans and killed over 115,000 of them.  Survivors might be nursing permanent damage to their systems.  Nobody seems to know much about the disease, other than it’s preferable not to catch it.  It’s one bad mofo. 

Now listen to the Cash-Hole-in-Chief and his fellow travelers demand states to reopen regardless of health concerns.  Listen to the cash-holes who argue that businesses shouldn’t have to guarantee a COVID-free workplace, but should be absolutely free to fire employees reluctant to return due to safety concerns.  Listen to the cash-holes who offer the latest job numbers as evidence that the virus has learned to behave.   Never forget some of these cash-holes have broadcast their willingness to sacrifice other people’s lives to preserve their perverted version of America. 

Now ask yourself: are these cash-holes that much different from Reverend Jones babbling at the speed of light while his lieutenants served or forced down Flavor Aid to defend their perverted version of a noble ideal?

I could bang these thoughts into politically-committed verses.  Anybody hearing me intone the resulting poem at a poetry slam will know I have deep and meaningful things to say about America in 2020. 

We Americans are forgetful.  It’s part of our charm. 

Back in February a family friend wondered why the government wasn’t taking COVID-19 more seriously.  I told her I wasn’t surprised, and reminded her the Cash-Hole-in-Chief moved so slowly after Hurricane Maria that Puerto Rico was without power for nearly a year and 3,000 Puerto Ricans died.  She had forgotten Puerto Rico.

Even our venerable institutions forget.  On June 3, 1989, the Chinese government ordered the military to crack down on student protestors in Tiananmen Square.  Over the next few days, the military killed or wounded thousands of protestors.  That summer, you couldn’t escape a high school graduation ceremony without hearing at least one speaker refer to the Tiananmen Square massacre.  Thirty-one years later, The New York Times honored the memory of the massacre’s victims by publishing a call to use military force against those protesting police brutality.

Look what’s happening around you today. What do you think will be forgotten in three to five years?

I remain blocked.  Time to steal from my neighbors across the street.

They’re a family of three.  The wife, Rosie, is white.  The husband, Daniel, is Kenyan.  To celebrate the Fourth of July last year, Rosie treated their son, Grant, and her mother, Felicia, to a fireworks display at a local park.  An hour after they arrived, the event was cancelled due to rain.  There were cops directing people of out of the park.  Their inefficiency irritated Felicia, and she attempted to do their job for them.  There was a robust exchange of ideas between the cops and her.  Nobody was arrested, nobody was hurt. 

It’ll be easy to appropriate this story.  I can update it by including social distancing details. I can tell it from Rosie’s point of view, and portray her worries that Grant will believe he’s free to act like his white grandmother and will end up like George Floyd and too many others.  I can tell it from Felicia’s point of view, and portray her incredulity that anybody could be beaten or killed for pointing out what is right.   I can tell it from Grant’s point of view, and portray his embarrassment over the spectacle created by his grandma and the subsequent argument between her and his mom.

Regardless of whose point of view I use, I can inflate this small incident into a story that says deep and meaningful things about America in 2020.

The truth is I have nothing deep and meaningful to say about America in 2020.

It’s the tritest of artistic tactics to write a story about the inability to tell a story. 

And yet, I refuse to erase any of these lines and try again.  I refuse to write a story less fractured and more coherent than America today.  I refuse order. 

Let these fragments remain disconnected trifles.

Happy Birthday America.  May we learn to fear nature more and people less.


Compiled/Published by LeRoy Chatfield
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