Sunday, July 08, 2007

My Very Last “Independence Day” in the Gate

typical South Gate resident checking his stash for "Independence" day.

It’s official; in a year of lasts I declare this to be my very last 4th of July in la ciudad de South Gate. My first was in 1948 so I guess it is about time. A series of events doomed me to accompanying Greg and his family to his Mom’s house on McNerney Avenue in the heart of the Gate this year just as I have done maybe twenty times in the past little while. The Gate was thoroughly latinized in the 80’s and is possibly 95% native Spanish speaking Mexicanos at this time. Now, the area is not terribly run down or showing a TJ countenance for the most part. In fact, the “new” Latin Gate looks quite a bit like the old “Anglo” Gate. The Mexi-Gaters take pride in ownership and my dear Annetta Avenue is be-lawned and nicely painted. So, on those rare occasions when I “inte-Gate” I don’t feel too foreign or on guard. That is EXCEPT on the day our forefathers busted our chains to the British and established the U.S.A.
As a lad in the 50’s the 4th was a time to set off some “piccolo petes”, a Coliope Vesuvius Cone, a “Giant Brilliant” (interesting name indeed), burn some “glow worms” or set a “Smoky Joe” to smoldering. Early on I saw the old unsafe and insane stuff like ladyfingers and Roman Candles that once sent both Farrier brothers to the emergency room on the same night. In 1960 I personally threw about fifty cherry bombs into the Pacific Ocean when the family rented a beach cottage at Surfside. Mostly, we celebrated by standing on the Whitney’s front lawn as the impressive pyrotechnic show took place at the South Gate park or guzzled precious beer from Gracies liquor and smoked up Tareytons in the Knowlton’s back yard as a Red Devil “lawn party” was torched up using neighborhood safety techniques comprised of a galvanized trash can lid and a garden hose. Billy Hogan and I used to like to get a load on and leap through the shower of cinders put forth by the Bull’s Eye Cone. The worst injuries almost always came from barefooted kids stepping on not yet cooled sparklers.
Now in 2007 as I approach a terrible birthday with a zero on the end I crave only peace and quiet tempered by sips of red wine and Dodger heroics crooned over by the great Vinny. Such is not possible in my home surrounded by three separate construction projects (worked on all day on the 4th) and the local miscreants who amuse themselves in the wee hours by disrupting the neighborhood with M-180 blasts in one of the nearby concrete ravines. My nerves are a bit frayed from life with Sid and Nancy and the incessant auditory fill. So, darkly circled eyes drooping, here I was on McNerney as the sun began to set and the air filling with a cacophony only before found on the battlefields of World Wars One and Two. Think of the opening scene of “Saving Private Ryan” and the shooting gallery at Frontierland on busy day.
The days of “screaming panthers” and “snakes” are over in the Gate and now every citizen seems to have a pipeline to some Somali warlord’s ammo cache. M-180’s with the punch of an landmine have become the new ladyfingers and skyrockets that once were only seen at special events at large municipal parks are in lead bottomed paint cans in every other driveway on every Gate street within earshot. Sky rocket mortars, palomitas (powerful triangular packets of black powder), helicopters (whizzing buzz bombs), now pipsqueak cherry bombs and the kind of multiple skyrockets once used for the grand finale at Dodger stadium zoomed up from fifteen corners at once in a dizzying and deafening sensory overload. Showers of burning embers rained down on palm trees and the old roofs with a red devil may care attitude. True to the bubble syndrome mind-set of much of the mega-bass blasting, tailgating, SUV driving, cell-phone shouting LA there seem to be no connect between these dangerous balls of fire and the future fire-retardant integrity of the local structures. The tragic part was the birds darting hither and thither in mid-air in a panicked search for some safety. They whirred and whizzed from one blinding flash to another never reaching a sanctuary. Also, there were the dogs wandering in terror, tongues hanging askew with eyes burning for a comforting hand, fleeing away from their homes and the onslaught of idiot fireworks.
Next door to the matriarch, the last of the great Moms of the Gate a new “family” has moved in without much in the way of community spirit or manners. The front room is “decorated” like a cantina with a wooden tables set within a neon lit interior with dull, wood floors, a stereo system and some hardscrabble metal chairs somewhat like the Hula Gal Tavern back in the day. The front door was left wide open so the nearby folk could enjoy the string of racist obscenities that blared forth from the rap songs booming from the amplifiers within. There were some breathers from this when techno-Banda thundered forth to retain some connection to the old country.
When nightfall completely blotted out the natural light it was replaced by the rain of rainbow hued explosions that never abated below say klieg light intensity and the thick sulphur fumes really made breathing outdoors difficult. I skulked into the front parlor and resisted a fetal position, instead focusing on a Dodger loss as Bret Tomko threw his own brand of fireworks show. Even icy cold beer and the best potato salad in the known world could not settle my shattered nerves, so I let the mother of noise hug me in the front room where I had passed through many a crisis.
Some of the Sheehy’s bravely cringed in the front yard and watched the pale imitations of pyrotechnics coming from the park where Floyd Wakefield was once propelled skyward by a red, white and blue flower of fire. Finally, after what seemed like days, I begged for release and Greg rounded up the rest and as a nice touch to the end of this misery he pulled the van out of the driveway, perfectly illuminating a fallen inebriate on the lawn next door. The jellyfish-state sot slumped out front of the same little el bada bing where the rap still bathed the jagged pieces of auditory damage in a sleazy glow. They stood the senor up like you would straighten a four by eight but his play dough knees could not hold. And as we crept up McNerney in our escape capsule we could see them negotiating the front steps that looked like the San Gabriels to this besotted chump. Luckily for Grace, she is pretty much deaf and is saved from much of this madness. Our voyage to the 105 freeway was a tour of illegal fireworks and befuddled, terrorized stray dogs looking like me for some cessation of the bombardment. Hooking up with the 110 we zoomed north, the sky still lit with mortars, skyrockets, and grand scale pyrotechnics belching from streets where kids learned to light the things with Daddy’s Marlboros. All this supervised by beer-soaked idiots with one hand on the Budweiser and the other on the two-for a buck lighter. One slip and somebody loses a finger or eyeball but they do look so cool flying up out of your very own backyard. In Glendale a mental giant actually burned up his home and others in his complex by setting off fireworks INSIDE his apartment. When I got home, the explosions and showers of fire continued until I dragged off to my bedchambers with earplugs and white noise to sleep the sleep of the disgusted. Earlier, in my pre-slumber channel surfing I ran into a corn-fest with Pops orchestra playing the old glory wrapped, patriotic war horses while red-faced Kentuckians sat in the audience festooned in red, white and blue “outfits.” On the jingo-lameometer this program sent the mercury to the top. Still, I had a twinge of musty identification with the well-ordered Yankees blessed out with the team spirit. When we got skull-fucked in the Knowlton’s back driveway, eating watermelon, 20% fat burgers and smoking our cigs we did so with some small inkling that the day held some more significance than a cold Burgie. This is the new Los Angeles and the Raider nation mentality for which it stands. As for me, I have had enough and will begin my search for that remote lighthouse with a garden in the coming months.


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