A woman of dubious character and age riding a Citibike passes me by while somehow blasting Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” from an unseen music playing mechanism. She is one of the only people left on the streets of Manhattan the Saturday that marks the weekend of the Fourth of July. I hate the Fourth of July. In fact, I hate most holidays. It accents none too fine a point on how I am, what my mother calls, “the odd man out.”
Though New York is the easiest and therefore greatest city to be alone in, there is an undeniable feeling of desolation when it empties out, as if you’re the one who’s driven everyone away, relegated to the island all by yourself to reconsider some of the more unsavory aspects of your personality.
The only time any other human being has accurately described my Fourth of July ennui was in 2007, when I saw Zoe Cassavetes’ Broken English for the first time. In it, Nora Wilder (Parker Posey) decides to stay behind in the city while her best friend and husband go to Miami. The only invite to a party she gets is from a dowdy fellow co-worker from the hotel where she works a thankless job with a nebulous title. At first, she attempts to rebuff the prospect, instead staying in her apartment and doing those sort of nondescript things to pass the time that, even when you display them in a montage of scenes, still looks like you’re just moving around slightly in different areas of the room. Thus, she succumbs to going to the party, explaining, “I was beginning to feel like the last person on earth, so I thought I’d come by.”
At four o’ clock in the afternoon on Saturday, this sentiment was setting in at full force for me as I shut myself in for the weekend. I lived in Spanish Harlem with one other roommate, a Ralph Lauren type of girl who had already disappeared on Friday to Fire Island with her gay. This left me with the apartment to myself, alone amid a sea of Puerto Ricans on the street down below who almost–almost–made me feel as though I wasn’t quite so on my own. So I did what any semi self-respecting middle class person would do to pass the time: I binge watched shows–everything from My So-Called Life to Freaks and Geeks (I suppose I prefer shows with one season, less commitment that way). In between breaks, I jiggled the fat of my thighs and backside to pretend as though it counted as exercise. Then, after that, I would go to the kitchen and make something random from the cabinets to avoid going outside. You know, ketchup on crackers, that type of “cuisine.”
By Sunday morning, I was in full drone mode, starting to question if I could even still be classified as human anymore. I felt compelled to do something, to go out in the world. But I suppressed it and started watching Twin Peaks (an exception to my one season rule). Around noon, when I was cobbling together the last modicum of marinara sauce at the bottom of a shoddily branded jar to put on some rice, I began to truly consider leaving the apartment. Really, I did. But then a book I had been wanting to read for some time caught my eye, Money by Émile Zola, which I had a hunch would be far superior to Martin Amis’ novel of the same name. And I figured after congealing my cerebrum for so long, I ought to build it back up again.
At page sixty, roughly an hour and twenty minutes had passed. My mother called.
“Cassandra, I didn’t think you’d answer.”
“Why not, Mom?” I queried, already knowing the response.
“Well, most people–especially young people like you–are doing something this weekend.”
“Yes, busying themselves with drinking to numb the memory of having to return to conventional monkeydom on Tuesday.”
“Really Cassandra, your cynicism gets worse every time I talk to you. Don’t think you’re so above everyone else, you know. I’m not going to keep paying for you to live your idle existence.”
“I know, I know. The jig is up at the end of the summer,” I offered to placate her, fully aware that she would continue to support me regardless because she knew I was too delicate a spirit to deal with authority.
“Well, Abram and I are headed up to Tahoe to see the fireworks.”
“Sounds pretty traditional.”
“And you Cassandra? Have you got any friends you’ll be spending time with?”
“Oh oodles. I have so many, I can’t even name any of them to you.”
She was silent, well-attuned enough to my mood swings to assess that it was better not to try to suggest that I go somewhere or engage with humanity.
“I guess I’ll let you go hon. Just wanted to say Happy Fourth.”
“And to you, Mother. My regards to the fifth husband.”
She hung up. Our relationship was somewhat ideal.
Six o’ clock. Sunday evening. Even though it’s still only the 3rd, the Puerto Ricans have been setting fireworks off all day. And they’re all flaccid. The kind you can only hear, but not really see for more than half a second. I could go down there, join them. Try to bridge the cultural gap or something. Or start a fight that would get me roughed up. Anything to create some action. I could also instigate a more painful adventure by trying to ride the subway in the midst of the weekend/holiday schedule. But no, I remain frozen in my self-imposed ivory tower, convinced that anything going on out there will only make me more depressed than I already am in here.
Noon. Monday morning. I deliberately sleep in this late to allow as much time as possible to elapse. I have no alcohol in the apartment, so the only way to lose consciousness is through sleep. I’m even running out of toilet paper, resorting to the minimal amount of tissues left over in a box on my roommate’s dresser. Yes, I go in her room while she’s not there.
The afternoon’s lunch, or maybe brunch, is my most innovative meal concoction yet. Tuna on toast with sides of half-cooked yams and sliced apples with jam on them. Afterward, I contemplate applying for a job, but decide that a few minutes of pretend exercise would better suit me.
The rest of the day is a blur; I get through more one-season shows, including Undeclared and Wonderfalls. I no longer know what it means to interact with real people. It feels as though eons have gone by in the span of three days, and all I can think about is the gloriousness of Tuesday morning, when the city can return to its natural state of being miserable again so I won’t seem so inordinately out of place as the only non-reveler.
That night, the moment of truth, I make a concession to exiting the proverbial four walls by walking up to the roof. There is a family of four and a young couple setting off their own fireworks amid the others already populating the sky. They don’t see me, and I decide it’s a fine and poetic time to die, just jump off in that cliche, non fanfare-oriented way. It suddenly occurs to me that Louis B. Mayer was born on the Fourth of July, and I feel it would somehow dishonor his memory to self-inflict my death right now. I start to turn away. The female half of the hetero couple calls to me, “Hey, do you want to join us?”
I look at her strangely, my expression intermittently revealed by the lights of the fireworks. I shake my head. “No.”
Holidays are best spent alone. Particularly Independence Day.