Notes on the 4th

Posted on July 4th, 2013


Walter had a house few doors down from my childhood home in Hayward, CA. He lived there with his wife, who I rarely ever saw, and never knew the name of.  The outside of their home was always very tidy and well maintained. They had two nearly identical Volkswagon Rabbits which were kept in like-new condition.  He could be seen daily in the late afternoon,  in aviator sunglasses and white fedora, watering his meticulously cared for lawn and hedges.

I always waved to, and had on several occasions chatted with Walter: he was consistently nice to me, soft-spoken (tho I had witnessed him yelling at other neighbor children for stepping on his property). My dad told me that Walter had been a soldier in Vietnam. Although I didn’t know much about Vietnam at that point, this fact simultaneously frightened and intrigued me.

Walter’s choice of porch decorations also contributed to my intrigue. On nationalistic holidays, such as the 4th of July, Memorial Day, and the like, Walter had a variety of flags he would hang out front of his house: it was either the hammer & sickle flag of the Soviet Union, or, more often, a classic skull and crossbones/Jolly Roger pirate flag. He also had a bust of what looked like the devil which he had hanging on his porch no matter what calendar day it happened to be. I never asked him specifically about these objects, but, even as a child, I believed him to be more of a contrarian than a Satanist, Russian, or pirate. And more, I liked it. Somehow, this notion of absurdly, and boldly displaying the opposite iconography than what was expected by his suburban neighbors exhilarated me.  Now, it’s quite possible I could have been wrong about his intentions, but regardless, since then, for me, the forth of July has become as intrinsically linked to the skull and crossbones flag and the upheaval/upset of the norm as it is to fireworks, hot dogs, and the National Anthem.

Earlier today I decided to stop in at the Roswell, NM Goodwill store and look over their used records. I was flipping through and found a nice copy of some 70′s film soundtracks including W.Carlos’ “A Clockwork Orange” theme, the vinyl in what looked to be pristine condition. This made me smile. Two men approached the place where I was thumbing through titles. We began discussing how it was a shame there were no real record stores in town, and how so many were closing across the country. One of the men, Larry, an avid record collector from Los Angeles, was just passing through Roswell, scoping out a possible, or what sounded to be more inevitable, relocation to the city. Larry’s talk of moving came with a sense of urgency and helplessness, which made me a bit sad.  He did not go into details, but gave some mention of Los Angeles, while having been his home for most of his life, was not conducive to a peaceful mind.  He went on to say there was nothing left for him to hold on to there and that, for some undisclosed reason, Roswell was his only viable option. The conversation slowly shifted back towards the joy of music. His eyes lit up when we found a common interest in 1970s experimental rock such as Cluster, and Can, and Neu! His friend looked to be growing impatient of our increasingly esoteric banter, and we parted ways, wishing each other luck in the paths that lead from that point, both of us smiling.  I hope Larry finds Roswell to be as welcoming, peaceful, and oddly inspiring as I have.

Yesterday, July 3, 2013, marked 10 years since I first arrived in North Adams, MA, a place that has been my home for nearly the entirety of that decade. My first real home away from the S.F. Bay Area, in North Adams I had discovered an independence from my familiar upbringings, and an amazingly supportive community; my family away from family. Independence is a funny notion, something we strive to find, only to realize it’s basically a fallacy: we not only need each other, we are each other: all one, messy conflicted beautiful horrible organism, and yet, it seems that every so often I have the need to extract myself again from that familiar structure, in search of freedom, knowing it’s a doomed cycle. But somehow I enjoy it, the whole process of seeking, establishing, connecting, growing, and, inevitably, becoming restless, and looking out toward unknown mythical mutations. I’m so thankful to have made that journey 10 years ago, to have met the fine people I have, and now find myself on another journey, uncertain of where it leads, but certain I will always be able to find home.