Freedom Fighting on the Fourth of July — Dad-Style

The Fourth of July is ultimately a celebration of independence, right? Independence from the forces of tyranny and, um, well, you know, stuff.

Source Composite: Sean Culligan/OZY. Image: Shutterstock

Why you should care

Rudeness begets rudeness.

“Let’s do something fun for the Fourth!”

I was and remain a fan of fireworks, but I hate crowds. Both literally and figuratively. It routinely dawns on me that while a million Elvis fans can’t be wrong, I might be right in choosing to take my pleasures elsewhere. Somewhere where the crowds don’t collect, and the selling point is “it’s close.” And so despite Chuck D echoing in my head — Picture us cooling out on the Fourth of July / And if you heard we were celebrating, that’s a worldwide lie — this particular Fourth, I was game.

The Fourth would be fun. Because I would will it to be fun. And like some comedian said about little kids, the Fourth is very much like hanging out with people on acid: Everything is entertaining. Especially if it involves lights, cameras and action, which the Fourth does. 

So, on with the blankets, some hastily purchased Chinese food, coats in case it got cold later, and the half-dozen other pieces of must-have stuff that you must have when you try to take kids under 6 anywhere. The locale? The perfectly pleasant lawns that now are a Google parking lot in Mountain View, California. They abutted the Shoreline Amphitheatre, where if you could afford seats you’d be treated to some symphony stuff followed by the cherry topper of fireworks at dusk. 

On cue the ball landed on a plate of food on my blanket, where I guess it had been placed by the Gods of I Will Not Be Ignored.

If you couldn’t afford seats or were not fans of the John Williams–led symphony, the lawns were the place to be. The scene was as mellow as mellow could be. Other parents, other blankets, kids gamboling about. Nice in a suburban sort of way, part festival, part beach. The New Yorker in me was lulled, and with the setting sun and cooling day, I just didn’t see it coming.

The “it” that I missed? The rapid advance of People Potty Trained Wrong, or PPTWs.

PPTWs fuel the modern internet, since everyone’s news feed is filled with their depredations. Specifically, their cars parked over two parking spots, their excuses while in the express line at the supermarket with 40 items instead of the requisite 15 or their dogged insistence that the road must be shared as they bicycle in the slow lane on the freeway (seen with my own eyes).

 

In other words, people who take up way too much literal and figurative space. In this instance, the PPTWs evidenced a sudden desire to play football in the midst of a patchwork tapestry of parents and toddlers on blankets. I watched them, the shirtless and shorts-sporting 20-somethings, heedlessly tossing the football back and forth. Not willing to have my roach buzzed, I group-checked the other parents to see if my bubbling dudgeon was misplaced. The other parents didn’t seem much irked. It was like they didn’t even notice.

Which, of course, is catnip to PPTWs, who feed on notice. So what at first was a football tossed a few feet quickly moved into longer tosses, then throws and ultimately Super Bowl–level patterns that had them zigzagging between blankets and making leaping catches narrowly missing, well, everyone.

I hated them like some people hate serial killers.

But I sat and dealt. I mean, the Fourth of July is ultimately a celebration of independence, right? Independence from the forces of tyranny and, um, well, you know, stuff. So, yeah, I sat. Sat and watched the ball zing close enough to my head that I had to swat it away. 

“Sorry, man,” drawled a blond PPTW without much conviction.

img 4375

The author with his daughters.

Source Eugene S. Robinson

I didn’t respond. This was the “dealt” part. Like Prince once said about his short-lived marriage — “I just treat it like other things I don’t like: Make believe it doesn’t exist” — I figured ignoring them would work. No Dad speeches that start with: “Hey, fellas … maybe you could take this away from the kids.” No, I’d just go on with my conversation with the family. Enjoying my kids. Perfect.

On cue the ball landed on a plate of food on my blanket, where I guess it had been placed by the Gods of I Will Not Be Ignored.

Casually, still talking to my wife, I put my left hand over the football, pinning it to the plate. While the PPTWs advised me to “toss it back, bro,” I took out my pocketknife, a Spyderco Tenacious G-10, opened it and stabbed the football. Repeatedly. With so much calm that my kids didn’t even notice. 

The other parents? I sense they probably would have cheered had the football stabbing not proved to be orders of magnitude more disturbing than the inappropriate footballing. Especially given that I was in no hurry to put the Spyderco Tenacious G-10 away. I mean, why put it away when I might need it again? To fight for, um, freedom, or something.

The PPTWs? Look, the reason there are so many of them has everything to do with their preternatural survival instincts. To live and annoy another day is woven into their DNA and so then they did the most amazing thing — to me, at least. They acted so completely and totally like nothing had happened, that I started to doubt that anything had happened.

So I caught my breath, folded the knife up and back into my pocket and just watched the fireworks burst all over the night sky to the oohs and ahhs of parents, kids, Americans and just people in America, all enjoying an evening of trouble- and football-free entertainment. 

“You kids like the fireworks?” 

“YEAAHHH!”

Mission? Fully accomplished.

OZYTrue Story

Good stories from around the globe. Essays and immersion, into the harrowing, the sweet, the surprising — the human.