AUTHOR: Beth TITLE: DATE: 7/05/2004 10:38:00 AM ----- BODY:

America two dollars and twenty-seven cents January 17, 1956.

"Cop. Cop!!" A paddy wagon was pulling around the corner. A cruiser was, well, cruising down the street just behind us. This worried me because Matt--a person Michele met on the Internet and then invited along with us to the fourth of July festivities--and I were sitting Indian-style in the trunk of Michele's SUV, like when my day-care lady would let us ride in the way-back seats of the wood-paneled station wagon in the eighties. Only this was just flat trunk, a purse and some boxes, and us, two very not-small people hunched and squished into the little space, for all the world to see in our illegal seats. Of course this made the cops come out like mosquitoes. And of course this made me freak out every time one did. "Calm down, Beth, it's a paddy wagon," Michele blew through smoke from the front seat. "It's not going to get you." Like it was the bogeyman. Like I was still eight, riding in the wood-paneled station wagon. There was always one kid who couldn't handle it, who'd puke if they rode backwards, but they'd always find some way to get back there because getting back there was a status symbol and if puke was the price to pay, they'd gladly pony up. No one, of course, asked the poor bastard who shared the backseat with them. A cab driver and his passenger pointed and laughed at us. Parking was an ordeal. Michele kept aiming the nose of the SUV at what she thought was a spot only to realize there was a fire hydrant or a motorcycle or there just plain wasn't enough room, and then she'd veer off into traffic again. It's not that Michele's a bad driver--it's just that being perched over the back wheels of an off-roading vehicle tends to highlight any inconsistencies in the person behind the wheel. Between that and potholes and manhole covers I began to feel like a Mexican refugee crushed into a truck to cross the border. A Nicaraguan militant bumping along at a machine-gun turret in the back of a Hummer. A sub-Saharan African migrant worker trailing their feet over the dusty ground on their way to some dismal job. We were passing brownstones, houses stacked together side by side, at once uniform and yet lacking the depressing uniformity of, say, a housing project. Windows above the doors specifically showcased the chandeliers and vaulted-ceilinged foyers. A few of the brownstones had names sandblasted into the glass of these top windows. When a house has a name, you know one thing: cha-ching. Finally a man with one of the suckiest jobs in the world waved us into a parking area that cost eight dollars. We weren't finding any free spaces, so finally decided to suck it up and pay to park. As it was we'd been beaten to the punch by so many people that we were told to park in the striped space between two handicapped spots, one of which was taken by a minivan full of completely able-bodied people. The other was soon filled by a low-rider. When they popped open the trunk to let Matt and me out, we scared the family from the minivan. They pointed at us and began to babble in Russian. Special Forces Troops don't do more coordination and communication between units than our contingent did last night in order to locate the rest of our group on the Mass Ave Bridge. Finally after playing Marco Polo in a sea of people with our cell phones we found them, camped out just behind the railing on the side of the bridge facing the Esplanade. It was some prime real estate. So we sat and smoked and made fun of David Lee Roth (who was actually allowed on stage this year with the Boston Pops) and told conductor jokes and musician jokes until the 1812 Overture began to carry across the water from the Esplanade and compete with the time-delayed speakers mounted on one of the yachts. We cheered for a canoer with a giant statue of Gumby mounted in his boat. Finally the fireworks began, bursts of rainbow, hearts, even smiley faces made out of fire in the sky. Gigantic weeping willows dissolving into the night. Cascading diamonds and pupil-dilating bursts of color. Follow that one little shooting-star-in-reverse, watch it blink out, watch the marigold made of sparks take its place, open toward your eyes, looking as if it'll fall right on you. Hear the blam, blam, whistling explosions play the Prudential Tower and John Hancock building like tympani, the echoes firing back across the water. Best of all, within arm's reach during all of this are the people you love. As the fireworks show drew to a close, I felt a familiar tension in myself--the urge to whip out a notepad and make sure I had recorded every detail, the desperation that always comes to me while I am having a worthwhile experience, because I know I will never remember exactly what happened. This is the biggest reason why I write, the reason why my early journals are a laundry list of details about my day. "Woke up at 7:04 am. Ate Raisin Bran, milk and orange juice for breakfast...went to Grandma's house from 2:05 pm to 5:46 pm. Ate pork chops, mashed potatoes, corn and milk for supper..." My narrative style improved, but my motivation to write didn't change: my mistrust of memory, my desire--seemingly inborn--to pin down experiences like specimens. It almost never works. But the surest sign I'm getting older, getting better, is that last night after the initial Oh, no...I felt a rush of calm, and a revelation: for the first time in my life I realized that I might not remember everything, but I would remember what was important. Of course. How did I not realize this before? Afterwards looked like a Godzilla movie, with huge crowds of people pushing and shoving and fleeing down the streets. People rode on other people's shoulders. Guys in polo shirts with shaggy Dead Poet's Society hair turned in their boat shoes to holler out at the crowd. Andy and Elizabeth, Kim and Cory, and Steve and I--the trio of couples I refer to as the Triple Threat--hit the Uno's in Kenmore Square for Peanut Butter Cup sundaes, house salads, steak tips, beer and pizza skins. The whole place was abuzz with eerily similar people. It was too late for the trains to be running. We walked over the bridge, around the corner, and around three of the four walls of Fenway Park. Andy and I stopped to put our hands on the back of the Monster and Steve made a joke about it being the Wailing Wall. I finally saw the statue of Ted Williams, and we left an American flag on a toothpick from someone's sundae stuck in between the hand and the bat of the statue child. Andy and Elizabeth were parked at WBCN. We got a tour of the inner sanctum while Elizabeth used the bathroom, walking past gold records and pictures tacked haphazardly to the walls, and finally into the studio where Andy's friend Sully was working the graveyard shift. We were introduced, heard him do a little bit of banter and throw another song on. There was a rubber chicken push-pinned to one of the shelves, and a Godzilla doll wearing Mardi-Gras beads. "You think anyone would miss that Nine Inch Nails thing if I took it?" I asked Andy. "Yes." He was disapproving. His voice had taken on that Beth-don't-embarrass-me tone. We left. Another Fourth. Another yawning drive home over Route 2, 128, Route 3. But this time, we got to come back to our place. "I love you more than anything," I'd whispered to Steve on the bridge as the fireworks lit up the river. It was the best thing I could think of to say in that moment. As we fell asleep together, it still was.