Friday, July 4, 2014

Boathouse sweep


Sitting here at the ol' typewriter just bleedin' to write something. Neil Young's groundbreaking 1972 album, Harvest on my turntable. "Are you ready for the country?" Before that - Billy Joel's The Stranger. You can't get more American than that on this or any other 4th of July.

On a hot day back in the 1970s, an 8-year-old version of me felt like such a big kid, taking the punk to light bottle rockets, Roman candles and such. I was with my cousin Jed on our grandma's lawn somewhere near the water pump and her garden, an old, still glowing rosebush in it.

I think of director Barry Levinson's film, Avalon as the old man with the Eastern European accent reaches back into his mind to recall the first time he saw America after coming off the ship on Ellis Island. It was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen, he said, the fireworks bursting outside his gracile, young frame.

July 3, 1776, John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, "The second day of July 1776 will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America...It ought to be celebrated with pomp and parade, with Shews, Games, sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more."

And so it was - July 2. I was working my side job at the Wichita Boathouse - built in the 1920s and overlooking the Arkansas River - where I was to sweep, mop and thoroughly clean every inch of the place. Normally such a job would have taken four to five hours, but I had my helpers by my side - wife, Maria; son, Max; daughter, Gabby.

Two of us taking the downstairs, two more upstairs. We'd give the hardwood floors a shine as lit up as the angles here in this swank house of ghosts, the tap-tap-tapping of shoes upon the dance floor, dixieland bands at weddings and young women being given in marriage to men long long ago.

Weddings. Family reunions. Quincieras. Barmitzvas. Batmitizvas.

All over time and time gone.

Gabby   my daughter, looking so like a queen. Even when pushing a broom and wearing summer shorts, she looked regal. I thought about our trip to California when she was 5, how she said she wanted to be a "magic princess." I thought about the ghosts of fathers dancing with their daughters upon this floor, the veranda behind and sun fading over the waters of the river.

I dropped my broom, ran over, picked her up and sent her arms and feet a-swayin' and the summer winds blew outside like boats receding into time.

All the booze that must've flowed here.

I was high on thoughts of it all when Maria said, after close inspections, that we were done. Then it became dusk and we all ran past the columns and pillars out the wide-stretched doors when I realized I'd forgotten something, ran back to the cash register and grabbed my paperback copy of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, pages soiled with red, blue, black and green ink where I had underlined passages. Little notes I'd scrawled to the side. The Great Gatsby - in my view, the Great American Novel. Hunter S. Thompson taught himself how to write, copying and typing typing typing the book on to paper. Anyhow, I bought the old paperback 25 years ago at the old Waldenbooks in Wichita's Towne East Mall.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was named after a distant ancestor, Francis Scott Key. He wrote The Star Spangled Banner and when you put it all together -well, you can't get more American than that. We saw the tattered flag from the War of 1812 at the Smithsonian when Max was 7 and Gabby was 4.

Back on the green grass with the family, the feeling of dusk and that first loud boom followed by springs and showers of light. (The city of Wichita holds its fireworks show on July 2. ) We drew closer to the riverbanks and I remembered standing there some 20 years before with Denyse, my best friend Steve, his sister Briana and Michelle. Late that night, we'd find ourselves in a field by Stanpipe Road outside the town of Rushing Waters, Kan. (pop. 1,000), drinking beer and smoking cigarettes.

It's 4th of July as I sit here bleeding at my typewriter. It's a good life.