Sunday, July 5, 2009


It felt as if the entire town had gone out of town. The streets were empty of adults and children, and it required only the tiniest bit of imagination to think this 4th of July had turned into something almost eerie, was unnaturally quiet. Even the parks that dot Northern Virginia were empty. I kept thinking: this is what it would feel like if one of those science-fiction plagues hit--empty, foreboding. A friend told me that several times during the night of the 4th, she felt as if she was the only one left on Earth.

After the sun set, hundreds of thousands of dollars literally went up in smoke. From where I stood, I could see six different sets of fireworks going off in surrounding communities, and when the ones in my small town began, children too little for such a display began to cry and cover their ears. It was phenomenally loud, the explosions shaking the ground and vibrating the air. I remembered a friend, a Vietnam vet, telling me this was what war sounded like.

When it was over there was an exodus of parents pushing carriages, carrying blankets and within an hour the stillness had returned, punctuated now and again by firecrackers or bottle rockets. The streets were once again empty, the sense of alonness and apprehension returned.

The 4th is a peculiar holiday, quintessentially American. It's a time of random excess--too much food and drink, too much noise, too many explosions. Personally, I'll take one kid with a sparkler over an expensive display of pyrotechnics. I'm bothered by the cost which was probably more than the entire annual book budget for my local library. I wondered about the noise and smoke pollution. Walking home, I saw two cops detaining a carful of drunks. The ground was littered with food wrappers and empty water bottles. It struck me then that all fireworks are pretty much the same, and that the thrill they provide is almost Promethean. We are doing something forbidden by our parents since we were little kids. We're playing with fire.

Here's installment 106 of Wasted Miracles.

The extremely fat tourist waved a fistful of dollar bills in the air, hooted, “Over here, honey! Over here!” His voice carried easily over the gut-deep thumping of the music but no one paid attention. Mollie felt the sweat trickle between her breasts, closed her eyes, thrust her hips in his direction. The man yelled, “My heart! I’m dyin’, honey! Come and make me alive again!” Molly glanced at the boss who was tending bar, saw him nod. She finished her dance, found her camisole. The man stood as she approached.

“That was just beautiful! Beautiful! Wanna drink? Two? Three?”

He still held the bills clenched in one hand, the wad folded over to look larger. “Wanna share some of this later?” He pulled a small clear plastic bag from his shirt pocket, waved it in front of her nose.

She shook her head. “Not my style.”

She wondered how much money he had. Every time there was a paying customer, every time she saw a handful of cash, she wondered. She had paid $3,000 for a ten pound bag of flour and now every bill took on a different significance. It could have been, should have been, hers.

The fat man said, “So, how much?”

She looked at him. His face shone in the heat and his eyes bulged. “For what?”

“Everything, Honey. The whole shebang. Up, down and sideways... How much?”

She looked at the money in his fist, looked up. A bubble of saliva was forming in one corner of his mouth.

“Three thousand dollars,” she said.

The man looked at her, grinned as if he’d just heard a bad joke.

She gave him her most fetching smile, ran a hand around the neck of his shirt. “Or two hundred bucks and a ticket out of here.”


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