It was only occurring just now to Brent that Fourth of July was a holiday on par with New Year’s Eve in terms of terribleness. The expectations put upon one to “have a good time.” To “join in the festivities,” to “participate.” As though participation in stuffing one’s face with a hamburger or hot dog could prove their Americanism. Their “commitment to country.” But who could commit to such a place as this? A place constantly posing as the “Land of the Free,” when it so obviously wasn’t. At least not to those without the right income tax bracket and skin tone.
Brent wasn’t even one to usually “go against the grain,” but something about this year weighed on him. Maybe it was because it was the third Independence Day he was spending in a marriage with a woman he hadn’t anticipated to be so frivolous. To so thoroughly throw out the many goals she had talked endlessly to him about during their dating period, only to essentially dispense with them all once they were married. They had met, ironically, in the bread aisle at a Vons in Santa Monica. The one on Wilshire and Euclid. Right away, he was endeared to her for shopping at Vons alone. It was only a certain kind who did. Most in the neighborhood preferred Erewhon or Bristol Farms or Ralph’s. The bougier, the better—of course. Not to say Vons was cheap, but to Brent, it had more “salt of the earth” quality. The point was, bumping into Adriana in front of the last package of hamburger buns that they both reached for at the same time was like a breath of fresh air. And yes, it just so happened to be the day before Fourth of July, hence the scarcity. In addition to the reason why the holiday would come to be so special to their relationship. Until, all at once, for Brent, it was not.
It started early on the morning of the Fourth. All Brent wanted was to roll over and keep sleeping when he was briefly stirred by the sound of the roaring coffee pot finishing its “creation cycle” (that’s how Brent thought of it). But just as he was doing so, Adriana came flouncing in with two cups of coffee, chirping, “Rise and shine, Mr. Sublime.” Had anyone ever been so obnoxious? Brent had to wonder. And since when did she take to tacking on arbitrary rhymes to cliches? Was that a special annoyance just for today, or would she be continuing with it going forward?
He couldn’t dwell too much on that prospect as she jumped on top of him and cooed “sweet nothings” in his ear. The kind of “sweet nothings” that instructed him on all the planning they had to do for their impending guests before their arrival for a barbeque at two p.m. It was all so fucking bourgeois. Or had at least been rendered bourgeois by Brent and his socioeconomic class posing as “indie.” They were an “Indie(pendence Day) Couple,” weren’t they? He with his remote graphic design job and she with her posturings about having a “successful” Etsy store. As she yammered on about the various tasks they were to divvy up in preparation for the “big event,” which would see a whopping two other couples come over to talk about how liberal they were and likely how phony it felt to celebrate independence this year with Britney still locked in her conservatorship, Brent entered a trance—tuning her out entirely. It had become a rather impressive skill of his in the three years since they had been married. A barbeque, he balked internally. To celebrate independence? How did this ever become the “logical” expression of American patriotism?
Perhaps if Brent had taken the time to look into it, he would have learned that the “grand” tradition of barbequing stemmed from the nineteenth century practice of holding political rallies (particularly the [Southern] Democrats, back when they were Republicans) on the Fourth before it was an official holiday. In order to keep the crowds both “gassed up” and interested in hanging around, huge barbeques would take place while politicians grandstanded under the guise of “gathering public opinion.” We’re talking the kind centered on giant bonfires (hence the term “bonfire rally”) that served as the perfect crude spit for the nearest barnyard animals offered up by local farmers. Something about the practice managed to stick, solidifying it in the American mind as a “bedrock” of their independence, evidently. Certainly in Adriana’s as she preened in front of the mirror while still in her sweatpants and oversized t-shirt featuring the image of a giant teddy bear on it. He felt repulsed by her in every way, as though she her very presence in this affronting “comfort wear” represented everything he disdained about American life.
She snapped her fingers at him like she was ordering a servant around as she said, “Hello? Brent? Are you in there? Have you even heard a word I’ve said?”
He disengaged from his contemptuous reverie and chimed in hesitantly, “You need hamburger buns, correct?”
She glared at him. Clearly, he had said the wrong thing. “Where are you these days? It’s like you’re not even in the room with me.”
“I’m sorry, Ade. I’m just preoccupied with work.”
She approached him sympathetically. He was still sitting on the bed and she situated herself next to him, rubbing his leg and moving her hand up toward his groin. “Aw come on, baby. It’s a holiday. Let your hair down. Maybe even your pants,” she added as she started to reach inside the opening in his boxers to massage him. He recoiled instantly. “I can’t do this right now. Let me just go do the shopping for all the odds and ends we need, all right?”
Visibly hurt by his terseness, she nodded solemnly and said, “Yeah. Sure. There’s a list on the counter.”
He grimaced. Adriana and her fucking lists. Always writing them out in her girlish hand, on “campy” notepads she bought from Etsy… instead of actually selling shit on there herself, she was always buying. It was the American way to always buy, in the end. Even if they told themselves now that they were buying “sustainably,” it was ultimately just a placation to keep buying, therefore destroying. And while this world can be divided into sellers and buyers, there are far more people in the latter category in America. Brent let this thought envelop him as he clutched to the list that read, “1) Hamburger buns, 2) Three cases of beer (you choose the brand), 3) potato chips (maybe Kettle?), 4) turkey burgers for anyone who doesn’t want beef.” He crumpled it up in his hand and shoved it into his pocket. Did she really need to make a list for four items? Like he wouldn’t remember? He hadn’t become “Alzheimer’s age” yet, for Chrissakes. It was just another example of her profligacy.
He meant to go to the Vons, truly. But he could not bring himself to stop in the parking lot. To actually pull over and execute the task at hand. He had a tendency lately to talk himself out of going into just about any public space. He projected all the potential scenarios that could happen and would end up getting completely anxiety-ridden about all the prospective outcomes. So he passed the store, and he knew he was making a conscious choice to upend his marriage. He would not show up back at the house that day with hamburger buns, cases of beer, bags of artisanal chips or turkey burgers. He would sit on the beach until nightfall—maybe roaming the pier in between—and watch the fireworks explode into the sky there.
He had to admit, he did like the fireworks. That was one aspect of American life he could capitulate to being still riveted by: the sense of showmanship. Which he himself no longer possessed to carry on in the life he had manufactured with this bizarre woman. Except that, by societal standards, she was not bizarre at all. Just a totally normal American. Filling her maw and celebrating some vague idea of “independence.”