Thursday, July 5, 2018

America on the Fourth of July

The annual Fourth of July fireworks launched along the East River south of the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge last night at 9:30. Photo: DPC
Thursday, July 5, 2018. Still hot here in New York, that turgid, heavy heat. And although there were forecasts of  thunderstorms, none showed up. Instead we’ve had the same old crummy heat, the kind that saps your energy.

The Fourth of July is one of those holidays that got away from us. It was a celebration of our confirmed independence from England and the European way. We were now Americans. When I was a kid — in first, second, third, fourth grades, we got a good dose of that dose of independence and the heroic Founding Fathers.

We were brought up with a sense of the Goodness of these Founders. George Washington, the man who “could not tell a lie.”  All children were brought up with the iconic story of American integrity.  I’m not making this up.  It’s not a bad idea to present those (potential if even occasional) virtues and behavior. As long as we bear in mind the complexity of the human mind.
"Father, I Can Not Tell a Lie: I Cut the Tree," engraving by John C. McRae, 1867.
By the time I was an adult, and we’d been in the Second World War, the Korean War and then in the Vietnam War, the business of American independence had become encumbered by a lot of others businesses — foreign and domestic — and discoveries, namely techno.

The most memorable Fourth of July in my adult life was 1976, the year of the U.S. Bicentennial. Our “awareness” of ourselves was on the upswing. The War in Vietnam was over and we were living in the land of prosperity. I invited a group of friends to dinner to celebrate that night and after the desserts, still at table each of us talked about this country, his and her country; our country, our feelings, our “illusions.” There was a sense of stability in the air that July night in perfect fair weather. 42 years later, that sense of stability has been challenged divisively.
New York City on July 4, 1976.
I remained here in the city, happily despite the limitations of the temperature outside. On Tuesday night I celebrated the birthday of my old friend Philip Carlson. Philip and I have known each other since the mid-'60s when we were both pursuing acting careers. Mine has now been reduced to a blip in memory. Philip has spent his professional life in the business and even now holds seminars for actors on How To Get An Agent. Like everything else in the Business of Show there’s a right way and a wrong way, a weak way and a strong way (to borrow from some lyric that just passed through my brain). Philip knows which is which and can spot it.
Philip Carlson and Oriente Mania, who was also celebrating his July 3rd birthday!
So we dined at Sette Mezzo, joined by JH whose wife is in Paris on business. A 50-year old friendship doesn’t require any planning. When we get together we fall into a pattern of conversation which includes verbal joisting, laughter, exchanging confidences about the day-to-day, as well as confiding, sharing our thoughts about the phenomenon of getting old without really being there (in your head).

Philip’s late wife Leslie was a chef — the first female chef at the Waldorf at the time. Because of her profession, Philip regards himself as an authentic food critic, and while he is generous by nature, he doesn’t mind writing something off. However, he loves the Pompano at Sette Mezzo. I’ve never had it. He says it’s the best he’s ever had….at Sette. After dinner, the staff came over to our table and presented Phil with a tart and a candle in the middle of it, while singing “Happy Birthday….” Then they poured more wine and the conversation continued. Nothing worth remembering and  yet entirely a pleasure. Old friends.
Park Avenue on the ride home. Practically deserted.
July Fourth is an Old Friend for many of us. And an unknown friend to many of the younger sets, among us. This is what happens in the aging process. I went down to the River last night to catch the fireworks which were set off farther down River. The Promenade was jammed, for blocks. This day is still a moment of community Togetherness. It has its homey, sentimental side, as well as the awesomeness of the pyrotechnics and how our awe is ignited for a moment in many of us, and especially the young children whose minds are still fresh with wonder.

I spent the day before the fireworks in my apartment, occasionally taking in the street passing by and otherwise returning to “Reporter” the title of a memoir by ace journalist Seymour Hersh. Mr. Hersh is famous and first came to prominence during the Vietnam War. I’ve read many of his dispatches over the years and when I see his name I know I am going to learn something that will tell me a little more about this world of ours. The first 25 pages are set down only so that the memoirist can get into the real story: covering the world we live in. And how he did it/does it, and the way a Real Ace Journalist works. With flawless integrity required. No fake news there, thank you.
Catching a glimpse of the July 4th fireworks from the Promenade ...
I copied the following paragraph from the book because although it is incidental in the continuing story of the man’s work, it gives you a sense of the man’s life as well as provides a familiar name to serve your interest, and a credible anecdote that not only informs but amuses.

“By the fall of 1969, I was working out of a small, cheap office I had rented – less than $200 a month – on the eighth floor of the National Press Building in downtown Washington.  My neighbor a few doors down was a young Ralph Nader, also a loner, whose exposé of the safety failures in the American automobile industry had changed the industry.  There was nothing in those days quite a like a quick lunch at the downstairs coffee shop with Ralph. He would grab a spoonful of my tuna fish salad, flatten it out on a plate, and point out small pieces of paper and even tinier pieces of mouse shit in it. He was marvelous, if hard to digest.”

I started the book the night before only because it was on my desk and I opened it just to give it a glance. I’ll probably finish it tomorrow. Because I admire his work, I was curious to see what he’s learned about us and the world in his distinguished career. And what I could learn from it. It draws you right in, like any good, riveting dispatch. And the teller is a kind man. And smart, as well as street smart. A kid from Chicago who hit on something that worked.
Shooting the fireworks from the middle of East End Avenue at 82nd Street.

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