I Want My Childlike Sense of Wonder Back
August 11, 2010 3 Comments
Few things on this earth make me happier than clams on the half-shell and a beer. Sitting in the sun, saltwater running down my arms as I shuck those marvelous mollusks for the people around me, squirting lemon and slugging IPAs. That’s when it finally feels like summer. Invariably I’ll look around and say, “This is summer. There is nothing that makes me happier.” Then I’m instantly saddened. I’m a spry and virile 24 years old but the things that make me the happiest are the things that will give me gout before I see 30.
My family spent the Fourth of July out in Sag Harbor, watching the fireworks at our neighbor’s house. This is a man that, at least outwardly loves life. His house is always full, he’s eccentric, has a curled mustache and an American Flag Shirt and a Harley. He’s everything my girlfriend is afraid of me turning into. When darkness fell and my “I don’t know anyone here and I’m uncomfortable” buzz settled in, I decamped to a lounge chair at the end of the property with my brother and sister. Three little girls were running around on the grass, dancing to the music with sparklers and elated visages.
The South Hampton fireworks started just as my mom launched into her anti-sparkler/fun spiel. The girls came to a deafened standstill, staring openmouthed at the sky, sparklers burned out and discarded. One by one their parents collected them in a from-behind embrace. Kneeling behind and kissing the girls on the crowns of their little blonde heads, squeezing the presumed fruit of their looms with vodka and cheap-chardonnay sentimentality.
I gave up on the pretty-impressive display of fire and watched the above scene. This year, like the one before it, and quite possibly the ten prior to that, the fireworks failed to move me. I felt not patriotic or awestruck beyond what I felt when I watched the Dirty Jobs episode featuring Mike Rowe making fireworks in a backwoods, PA garage. I’ve been finding it increasingly difficult to be moved by spectacle, focusing instead on the process behind it. Balcony tickets to American Idiot didn’t disappoint because, from our cheap-seats, I could see the flown speakers and lighting and marvel at the chain system keeping many thousands of pounds from crushing the $200 seats below us. I could watch the Music Director conduct the onstage band without looking like she was conducting.
Likewise, the fireworks didn’t excite me on a sub-primal emotional level, but I was excited to know that there were any number of combustable chemicals within what is essentially a cardboard egg being shot into the air at great velocity to explode at a rate of predictability that is somewhere between “Very” and “Oh Shit I Hope This Works.” (A note on this scale: my projects usually hover around “Here, Hold My Beer”) What eventually got to me was the unbridled glee of the three hale-cheeked ragamuffins running about and stopping dead in their tracks. It wasn’t so much the similarities to Victorian Tableaux, but that there is anything they can get that psyched about. With the exception of ten-course tasting menus and groovy bass lines, there are few things that get me that excited. I was jealous.
I think it’s something that is bred out of us when we reach adolescence—my 14 year old sister was bored and nary gave the fireworks a glance. But maybe it’s because we’re jaded New Yorkers. I’ve been slogging through tourist-infested Times Square for going on six or seven years at this point and the only thing that goes through my head is, “Get out of the fucking way.” The jaw agape, “Oooo pretty tall building!” look hasn’t crossed my face since I was probably a toddler visiting my dad at work. In fact, any morning that I hear a small child on the train asking insufferably repetitive and loud questions about said conveyance, I’m less and less getting pre-caffeine annoyed, and more—again—jealous that they’re that excited about the thing I only think of with dread or, more often than not, murderous rage.
So back to those clams. Are they just one of “Life’s Simple Pleasures”? They are something that I only partake in with any frequency in the summer even though local shellfish are available year round on Long Island. Whatever beer I wash them down with is usually one I’ve had many times before. Is it something comforting? That it takes a briny sweetness mixed with a bitter hop and a sunburned patch of skin to get me dancing in my seat is something that causes me no small amount of consternation. Why can’t I always be that happy?
Because like the 10-course tasting menu and a groovy bass line, not everyone gets it. I’d wager a guess that the percent of the population not freaked out by raw things just about equals the number of people that have trained their ears to pick out frequencies below 1kHz. It’s not the act or temporal object itself but the exclusivity of said object. Everyone can see fireworks, not everyone will eat raw oysters.
Take home point: Holy, Shit. I’m an asshole.