Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today is more of a rumination on the past post so you might want to get out early if you don’t like those. I don’t own either of these firework labels, but I like the idea of industrious kittens preparing your firecrackers for you, yet still playing – kittens will always be kittens! Letting them play with your fireworks is probably a bad idea however, needless to say.
Pictorama readers know I grew up on the Jersey shore (one post, about the other end of summer and the local fireman’s fair can be found here), and by this time in the summer a beloved routine of maximized daily beach going would have already commenced. Waking to an overcast and potentially rainy Fourth, such as I see out my window right now, would have equaled tragedy indeed, but then again every day missed out in the sun and water during those summers was a catastrophe. In this way I feel deeply sorry for the kids who, due to the virus, won’t be able to go to the beaches and pools this summer. It was a precious release valve of my childhood.
Meanwhile, my parents shared a deep aversion to crowds. For my father as a news cameraman it may have been the daily need to fight his way through them, his more than six feet four inches enabling him to make his way so he could get the shot he needed for the news. My dad was appalled when he discovered that I used to routinely go to see the Thanksgiving balloons blown up each year. He always said it was one of his least favorite assignments, along with shooting the parade on Thanksgiving Day. Just shook his head in amazement like how could he have failed so as a father. Needless to say, much from my kid-perspective disappointment, we never went to see the parade either.
Mom just doesn’t like crowds and will do anything to avoid them. And when I think about it, summer crowds in that shore town meant long traffic jams. I can see being in a car with a bunch of kids in the oppressive summer heat (our cars did not have air conditioning back in the day – yes, I am that old – and we frequently had ancient automobiles as well); stuck in traffic, waiting for the drawbridge, or just in a mass of cars released or heading to the local race track, Monmouth Park and the beach – was not attractive. But also, my parents eschewed large group gatherings.
The drawbridge between Rumson and Sea Bright which figured largely into my childhood, causing traffic chaos and which I crossed on foot with some trepidation.
Anyway, it was a fact and that meant that no amount of wheedling and cajoling or nudging would get them into a car to take us to see fireworks on the Fourth. They even avoided the small town parade that took place early on the morning of July 4, except for a year I vaguely remember being pressed into service to march with my Girl Scout troop, Brownies most likely. For my folks it was a weekend to stay home which they took to with a certain fierceness which was unlike their usual casual willingness to comply with our simple childhood whims.
As a kid this was nothing short of a grave injustice. I loved fireworks with the strangely delayed boom, boom, the cascades of color and the patterns of the lights. Seeing them on television, or off in the distance from our backyard, just didn’t cut it when I knew a few miles away I could have, in theory, had a front row seat. We had a sailboat and we might have, like hundreds of others, taken it out and watched them over the water. (River traffic on those nights was easily as bad as land traffic however, and frankly my father’s somewhat dubious skill as a skipper may not have qualified him for that tricky night maneuver, heading to a different river and involving two drawbridge openings. Of course I didn’t realize that as a kid.)
Therefore, I have no memory of viewing fireworks in person with my parents as a child. I don’t remember discussing this parental failing with my siblings, although I must have talked to my sister about it. It must not have concerned Loren much or I would have remembered – she was the more vocal of the two of us. Edward was much younger and did not weigh in on the debate either. Perhaps he remembers something of it I do not.
Adolescence brought some independence and I routinely imposed firework attendance on a long line of boyfriends. Most complied with some enthusiasm – we picnicked in parks, swatted mosquitoes and took the displays in, shrugging off the crowds and the parking problems. The best was going out on a motor boat with friends of friends one year and parking more or less right under where the fireworks were going off – close enough that the curling hot little bits of burning paper falling from the sky landed around us in the boat. It remains the peak firework viewing experience of my life.
I probably should have stopped there, but human nature being what it is I continued to pursue firework watching through my early adulthood. Displays switching here in Manhattan from East River to Hudson, and I would head over to the East River on those designated years (for some mystical reason I never tried to see them from the westside), to watch them on the FDR. Even here in Manhattan the density of humans thronging over to the viewing area meant a long, hot walk and wait for crowded viewing, followed by a still hot and very crowded walk back to packed subways and buses. A bridge would always seem to obscure your view. It took years for me to get it out of my system.
Somewhat like my childhood home on the river, Kim and I live with a view of the East River, although we face northeast and see the river as it turns a bit toward the north. And much like the backyard of my childhood, we have only partial and obscured views of the fireworks in Queens in most years and a very poor one (high rises in the way) of those set off over the East River. Early on I made nascent attempts to head over to Carl Schurz Park, or to scamper up to the roof with a pint of ice cream to have a look. Although I gave up on it years ago, I still have a small itch most years, to see them.
This year the fireworks are canceled in New York, although illegal ones have strangely abounded since early in the spring, occasionally waking us and rousing the cats to head for safer ground, such as under the bed although it is such a regular occurrence that they generally ignore it. Kim woke to a cacophony of car horns at Gracie Mansion a few weeks ago, protesting the illegal fireworks which also set off car alarms. (I slept through it, but read about it and the point of it days later.) Although I prefer fireworks to the sirens of ambulances that we heard throughout the nights of March and April, it is far from soothing and there are nights when it tests my already frayed nerves.
Because going out for groceries in our pandemic pounded city still seems like a big deal – our newly introduced outdoor dining seeming radical to my pasty housebound self – it would have been unlikely that we would deviate and embrace public Independence Day celebration. I have finally become my parents and avoid crowds.
Meanwhile, as a fundraiser for organizations that end their fiscal year on June 30 and begin anew on July 1, in recent years I have generally found myself exhausted over this holiday, the end of a final long sprint to the financial finish line, and in other years I have extended it with vacation just to catch up a bit.
Vacation days are going begging this year though as Jazz at Lincoln Center battled through the end of last fiscal year, having already gone more than three months without earned income, our hall dark and our orchestra unable to play. We hit our marks for last year, but now go barrel headlong into an even more difficult year, facing at least six months without earned income and trying to charter an unknown course ahead. Not to mention that it is also unclear what vacation means now, without leaving our 600 square feet and computer screens. Still, we’re slowing to a halt for a day or so here at Deitch Studio, pausing and catching our collective breath, before heading back into it.