The 4th

When I got out of Terminator 3 tonight, I felt like walking, even though it felt like it was about 95 degrees, and the air was thicker than oatmeal. Even with the humidity and heat, I wanted to knock myself the hell out of Times Square as fast as possible. I pushed myself from a fast walk to a slow march, and jumped off the sidewalk and into the curb to get past the slow-ass tourists in town for the weekend. The quick walk pushed my body more than two hours in a seat, and I hoped the pain in my bum legs and the huff and puff of drawing in bad air would make me stop thinking about what was in my brain.

No, I wasn’t pumped up about the movie. It was good, but not great, and the ending was dumb. It was weird to hear the name John Conner said over and over, for reasons obvious to anyone who’s read my books. And I guess I still want to fuck Claire Daines, but that’s pretty much a given. I guess one reason I wanted to walk was because I felt depressed and sort of out of it. Maybe it was the fact that all I had to eat all day was half a bag of artificial popcorn and a bagel. Maybe it was being alone for the holiday. I don’t know.

Honestly, I’m not a big fan of the Fourth of July. I’ve had a lot of dumb shit happen on 7/4 in the last decade or two, stuff that had little to do with the birthday of our country. Really, the Fourth has almost nothing to do with our country – I doubt a single person in my neighborhood could tell me what the holiday is really about. (I thought it was bad when I saw a bunch of dumb-ass guidos wearing American flags as capes. Then I saw one wearing a Mexican flag. Pretty sure they don’t celebrate the Fourth of July there…) I’m a patriotic person, but I have this theory that it’s better to celebrate something at a consistent level every day rather than pour on the fake bravado for one day a year. If you’re going to drink, drink every day instead of being a sloppy drunk on New Year’s Eve. And don’t be a piece of shit 364 days a year and then pretend you are the best fucking Catholic in the world on Christmas and expect me to believe you. So I don’t wave flags, and I don’t go barbecue on the beach on Independence day. I usually sleep in, and I watch some TV.

Actually, I read for most of last night, then woke up early for no reason and read some more. I just got (and finished) the book Jarhead by Anthony Swofford, and it was the kind of thing I crack open and don’t put down until the last page. It’s an excellent account of his time as a Marine, leading up to his service as a sniper in the Gulf War. It isn’t gung-ho, Semper Fi bullshit; this is about how he hated being a Marine every single day, but that made him the best damn Marine ever. It’s how he was born in a military family and signed up at 17 and a half and wanted to quit during boot camp, but kept with it even though he hated all of the other Jarheads, until he realized he was every other Jarhead, and it was something he could never leave.

Part of me read the book and made me think of the few little strands of my life that followed his, and how I wished I could write a book like his about some great event in my life, but there isn’t one. Part of me wished I would have done a million situps a day since I was 14 years old until two blinks of an eye later when I was behind a Barrett sniper rifle dropping three .50 cal rounds into a dime-wide grouping at 1800 yards. Part of me wanted the kind of life where everything is so clean-cut, you can look at a man’s shirt and scan his ribbons and see everything he’s done in his life, and everything you’ve got to offer the world is based on your MOS and not what you want to do or what gets given to you or anything else. At a time in my life where I don’t really know what I want to do or where I should go or who I should meet, the thought of having someone come in and hand me papers saying I have to move to the Phillipines at 0800 sounds appealing, almost reassuring to me.

But all that’s crap. I know I’d hate the Marines. I washed out of the Cub Scouts after the first year because I didn’t want to learn how to tie knots anymore. I don’t know what would happen if I was fucked over at every turn by The Suck. I had enough problems working for a university and dealing with their bullshit hierarchy. At least they didn’t make me do pushups when I fucked up.

So I walked. It felt good once I got going, and when the small trickle of sweat on my back became a completely damp t-shirt. After the crowds, I made it up Park place, the area north of Grand Central where there are no pedestrian signals and every hotel and deli became a cloud of sub-arctic air condidioning against the city heat. I saw an indoor Audi dealership, and that big Met Life building that looks like the bottom twenty stories were eaten away by beavers preparing to tip over a tall tree. Armies of homeless slept on streets in front of banks with glass-walled lobbies bigger than my apartment building. There weren’t many people on the street, but those who were there blocked my way. I knocked over a guy at about 52nd Street who talked on his cell phone and blocked my path as I blazed past; he even looked at me the entire time, somehow expecting me to jump on the side of the building like spiderman or something. Finally at 59th, I got bored of walking, bought a giant bottle of Dasani, and got on a train. Two miles, and about 35 minutes. That was okay.

Oh, and I found out a weird thing about the 59th and Lex train station. If one train comes through the station, and you stand at the right place at the other side of the platform, there is a weird vacuum suction effect as the 8 cars displace their volume of air and dump it into one spot on the platform. It’s like the most powerful air conditioning burst in the world, especially when you’re covered in sweat.

Not much else. I went for another walk after I got back, to go get food. I put in earplugs instead of a walkman, and spent the whole time hearing my own body instead of the noise of the city. Each footstep echoed through my bones and to my inner ear; each breath of heavy, thick air pulled through my brain. Almost nobody was out on Steinway, and it let me walk even faster, just hearing the cadence of my shoes hitting the concrete, my lungs trying harder and harder to get more air. I’m so out of shape, and I almost wished I was that Jarhead running 19 miles in a MOPP suit in the desert, just so I could have my whole body and nothing else under me, instead of a set of creaky legs with corrective lifts in my shoes, a bunch of spare weight on my gut, and a trick neck that locks up after a 20-hour session on the monitor. I’d promise myself to work out, but in a life where I only have a few hours each day after work and sleep and commuting, buying a gym membership is a death sentence.

Anyway, happy birthday, USA.


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