The Fourth, Revisited

Those of you who haven’t visited the site much probably won’t know about my two “big” Independence Day posts. I thought I’d reprise them today:

  • The first, from 2008, appeared just a few months after I’d started this blog. The subject, in those innocent times a few months before Barack Obama was elected: certain similarities between the political atmosphere then, and the counterpart in 1776… as represented by a selection from the Broadway musical, 1776. The song: “Cool, Cool Considerate Men.” (Just the few lyrics excerpts there should be enough to convince you that not a whole lot has changed since then — at least, not for the better.) On a trivia note: this was the first RAMH post to include a little audio-player thingumabob for embedding music in a blog entry.
  • The second, from 2012, melded a bit of personal history about patriotic parades with some background information about the marches of John Philip Sousa. By that time, as you will see, I’d gotten over all shyness about incorporating music in my posts.

…and of course, if you’re so inclined, feel free to visit my post of a few hours ago. It, too, has some things to say about the occasion celebrated in the US today. Sorry, no music for that one.

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Red, White, Blue: A Holiday Fiction

Red.

The President emerged from his private Oval Office bathroom, rubbing his hands together. It didn’t help right away; they dripped on the carpet. Not his problem, though. He had people, after all — people whose only job was to sop up spills at his feet, dry the doorknobs behind him, hand him towels before he touched anything that might not shed water, or might later reveal a handprint. Documents of state. The hands of dignitaries and friends. Women. Whatever.

It was a problem in this joint, a serious problem if you asked him. Back home, in fact at any of his homes and he had a lot of homes, all right?, back home he had people in the bathroom who’d stop him as soon as he stood up, turned away from the sink, stepped out of the shower, whatever — dry him off, make him presentable to all the squeamish dopes he might come into contact with before the water and other things could evaporate or be patted away. But here in this place, wow, how did his predecessors live like this, anyway for even four goddam years? Probably some rule, some budget restriction that needed approval from the sneaky cocksuckers on Capitol Hill.

Unusually, nobody else was in the Oval Office right then. Good. He needed to pull himself together, get a grip on something before he faced anyone else — the something that had greeted him, shocked the hell out of him, when he peed just now.

The red.

Blood, all right? He knew blood. He was used to drawing it from people who got in his way. He saw it on TV, on those movies they make. Back in his school days, he saw it flowing from the nose and lower lip of a guy who’d jumped him. Yeah. That other guy had hit him first, which nobody else cares about when they tell the story, and he’d just given that guy what he asked for, and yeah, all right?, that guy’s blood was there, then, sure. But blood wasn’t supposed to come from him, the President, the Honcho. If you cut him he’d do only one thing and that was cut you back, and you better believe it, cut you back.

He couldn’t tell anybody about it. He couldn’t see a doctor about this, couldn’t breathe a word of it into the air of anyone who might hear it, which was to say, of anyone. Not his wife or his kids. Nobody. It was like his mentor once said to him: Never let them see you bleed. And then, because that left the door open to other possibilities, he’d added: Never let them know you can bleed. Ice water, not blood, right?

Smart man, his mentor. And he didn’t care what they said, that smart bastard was no queer.

No, he couldn’t mention the blood, because once he did he’d be dead. That person would tell somebody else, or that person would write it down where it could be read by somebody else who would then tell somebody else, all the way up and down the chain. And the way things worked in this fucking city, everybody in the goddam world would know about it by the end of the week, and then he’d be dead. Might as well be. Unfair. Newspapers, fucking media… He patted his jacket pocket, but oh, that’s right — they’d taken his phone away, changed his passwords. No outlet there.

He just had to tough it out. It’d go away. It was just something he ate, something he drank. The goddam food in this place, right? Mexican chef, he was pretty sure, or maybe a Frenchie, Chinaman, one of those. It’d pass, whatever it was. He was the goddam President.

White.

He had a fellow who worked for him now, did all kinds of odd jobs, ran errands, tied his tie, opened doors. Never came with him back to New York or to Florida, just stayed right here and waited for him, the President, to return. He couldn’t take the guy with him to those other places, they wouldn’t understand. They’d talk. Guy was a queer, he was pretty sure — the only person in the White House, as far as he knew, who ever used that goddam creepy transgender bathroom his predecessor had installed. And on top of that, the fellow was black. A Negro, right? African-American. Afro-American, whatever they hell they called themselves now.

Well, this fellow who worked for him was in the Oval Office one day, standing along the wall like he did, at attention or whatever. Like a flagpole. Sculpture. Piece of furniture, something you didn’t have to deal with or even pay attention to. Also in the office at the moment was his counselor, his — what’d the Guidos say? — oh yeah, his consigliere. And the consigliere was going on the way he’d started doing, getting a little full of himself in fact, some days he didn’t think the guy would ever shut up, and jeezus could he have a more annoying laugh? But the guy was going on, blah blah blah, and then he said it. He said: Don’t forget, we gotta give the niggers something, too. And then he stopped and raised an index finger and waggled his hairy goddam eyebrows over the top of his glasses and then he pointed at him, the President, and added, No, correction, you gotta give them something. And then the goddam laugh again.

The President looked away from his counselor, over to the fellow who worked for him. Guy didn’t even flinch. Or maybe he’d flinched already, but fast so you couldn’t catch him in the act. Sometimes they were like that — one way when you’re looking, a different way when you weren’t.

But then the guy did something — maybe it was nothing, maybe it wasn’t nothing, who knew. He didn’t flinch, but he twitched. And not twitched his face, or a shoulder, or his body. It was almost invisible, real fast, just one little flick of that one finger, the middle one… He wasn’t even sure he’d even seen it, and he looked up at the guy’s face thinking he’d catch him looking embarrassed or something. But embarrassed, well, who even knows if they get embarrassed? It’s not like they blush or anything, right?

Tell you one thing. It was funny at first, all right? It was funny and it was fun, this whole thing. Being President. Signing, signing, signing. He was a signing monster in the early days. He’d write his name, hold it up so the cameras could show he signed it himself and didn’t use pre-signed stationery or automatic signing machines or any of that crap. All those people standing behind him, grinning. He got along with those people, with everybody who got along with him, all right? He was a lot more genuine than they all thought. Really real, you know? And so he’d sign all that stuff, and somebody would take it away, and he didn’t know what happened to it after that but the way the left-wing dopes screamed maybe it was being shoved up their keisters. He hoped so. And he could feel the country changing under him, behind him, and that was good, right?

His counselor was still talking. Talk, talk, talk. He waved the guy away, out of the office. Shut the door behind you, right? He looked over to the fellow who worked for him. Still a statue. Not a twitch. Maybe something in his eyes, something the President had never seen in a statue…

But then it was gone, and the President’s attention turned to other things.

Blue.

They all thought he had enemies, the President knew. And yeah, okay, he might even have used the word enemies a few times himself, back in the days when he could still use his phone.

But he didn’t really have enemies. He just had pains in the ass.

And the worst of all the pains in the ass were the liberals, the lefties, the fuckers who controlled the newspapers and the media and the other countries and even the companies and all the people who’d turned against him. They had to be behind it, because who would turn against him otherwise? He was great at what he did, right? Lies. They just lied about him, constantly. All the time. And they were lying about his so-called enemies, but if any of them had said pains in the ass instead, he’d have nodded like he was agreeing. And then he’d have pointed right back at them.

Democrats. Bastard turncoat Republicans, the weak shits. “Independents,” and who the hell knew who else was in the mix. Communists, anarchists, socialists, bomb-throwers, queers and women, African-Americans and Mexicans, Canadians, Muslims, the plain old goddam people anymore — the people who used to talk about him in the old days, talk about him all the time, in titty bars and in their kitchens and at baseball games and after church and in schools…

Ungrateful pains in the ass, all of them. They think he was doing all this for fun? No, he wasn’t doing this for fun. He was doing this for them, and so they’d know he was doing it for them — for their outspoken knowing. Applauding or bitching, he didn’t care back then, right?

The hell with them. He didn’t care anymore, either. Because they didn’t care. They were all talking about other shit. March Madness. Report cards. TV shows, and they couldn’t even talk about his TV show anymore because the bastards had pulled the plug on that two years ago. Food prices, gas prices, toilet fucking paper prices. Didn’t they know who he was? Didn’t they know what he could do to them?

His, what was it, counselor… no, his consigliere had quit, saying publicly that he had personal reasons but privately that he was just “tired.” (Tired, the weakling.) The fellow who used to stand at attention in the Oval Office when the President didn’t have anything else for him to do — he was gone, too. Took a research job with the National Science Foundation, the guy told him with a smirk on his face, he knew it was a smirk, and he didn’t understand that at all because he thought he’d signed something in the early days that canceled the National Science Foundation, hadn’t he? (He himself couldn’t check on the Internet anymore because they still wouldn’t let him have a phone but he’d ask one of the kids to look it up and tell him, answer the question: did he pull the plug on The Egghead Show or didn’t he?) The Vice-President was still around somewhere, but probably out of town the way he always was anymore. Making speeches, visiting Capitol Hill and K Street, with his tie all tied and his hair close cropped and his jacket buttoned in front. Posture of a phony, that one. Keeping his own hands clean, the bastard. Never trusted him. Never.

No. He was alone now. Nobody was looking, nobody was listening.

Talk shows had other things to talk about.

Comedians joked about married life.

Cab drivers bitched about traffic and pedestrians.

Pains in the ass. Everygoddambody. He’d show them yet. He was the President, and they’d remember him all right. He was the President.

He pulled the drawer of his desk open, and reached inside.

______________________

Copyright 2017 by John E. Simpson. Feel free to make use of this piece however you’d like; that said, please include this copyright notice in the reusing work. I’d appreciate it, too, if you could include a link to the story’s original posting on my site, at this URL: https://johnesimpson.com/blog/2017/07/red-white-blue-a-holiday-fiction/ — but I won’t unleash the lawyers on you if you skip that step.

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(Belated, But Timely) Midweek Music Break: Fifes and Drums

'Yankee Doodle,' a/k/a 'Spirit of '76'

It can be hard to take the music of fifes and drums seriously. Unlike Sousa marches, which I wrote of last year at this time, these marches have never had one single person’s name — a pop-culture champion, if you will — associated with them. They never even constituted a uniquely American genre: the form sprang from the battlefields of 17th- and 18th-century Continental Europe. Yet you almost never hear it played at other times of the year, only around July 4th*.

In the logbook of human civilization, the United States hasn’t even existed that long. Nevertheless, what we commonly refer to as the Revolutionary War feels like ancient history to us. Anyone who lived through it is long dead, and the manner in which it was conducted scarcely feels like warfare. In some engagements you could probably almost count the shots fired as they were fired. Total deaths on both sides together (considering battles only, not illness, starvation, and other war-related deaths) apparently numbered “only” in four figures. It almost feels like… well, like a toy war.

The sound of fife-and-drum music, to ears accustomed to the window-rattling brass of martial celebrations, itself feels like the perfect music for a toy war. Given enough schoolchildren who know how to whistle, and given enough empty picnic tables to slap their hands on, you could pretty convincingly recreate the sound (if not the discipline) of a fife-and-drum band. Wikipedia says that the flute “sounds an octave above the written music”; even someone musically unsophisticated can see a hint of, well, unseriousness in the instrument so described.

[Read more…]

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When Language, Pop Culture, and Politics Collide

'1776' film posterYou know what driver’s-ed classes don’t teach you? They don’t teach you how complicated it is to make your way through a busy intersection of more than two streets, especially when there are no traffic signals.

I thought about this failure today, in connection with the 1972 film of the musical 1776.

Until last night, I’d never seen the movie and never (truth be told) had wanted to. No objection to musicals per se, you understand. But I’ve always had a hard time with light and frothy musical treatments of truly momentous historical subjects.

(Yet I very much like Cabaret, and agree with Pauline Kael’s assessment at the time it was released: “A great movie musical, satirical and diamond-hard.” Satire with an edge: good. But perkiness? Eh, well…)

But last night my resolve was weak. The Missus and I were both wiped out by planning, preparing, and executing a July-4th cookout for […counting…] ten people. While she escaped to her office, collapsing into a fog of online gaming, I just sat, stretched out, on the sofa, TV remote close to hand. And clicked. And clicked. And clicked…

For some reason probably having to do with the previous day’s power failure, when I first turned it on the channel was set at 2: the Home Shopping Network. (click) PBS had David McCullough on Charlie Rose, talking about John Adams. (click) Wonder what’s on Turner Classic Movies…? Hmm. William Daniels in colonial garb. Singing. Singing? Did William Daniels sing? What was this, anyhow?

By the time I realized what it must be, I’d been sucked in.

[Read more…]

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