Former San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll published a column about Thanksgiving and gratitude every year. The bones of it, and most of the meat, remained the same, but he continued to update it annually to reflect the changing times or his evolving wisdom.
Five years ago, when I was first starting this blog, I wrote a poem about July 4 that I would like to re-publish today. Its bones and meat are the same, but in the spirit of Mr. Carroll, I’ve cooked it up a little differently.
If I’m ever convicted of capital crimes, and afterwards sentenced to death,
I know what I’ll want for my very last meal, just hours before my last breath.
Don’t give me a pile of hummus, my friends, not caviar nor any peas.
Don’t make it a gourmet, artisanal feast; just give me a cheeseburger, please!
You can skip buying brie or Jarlsberg cheese; a big slab of cheddar’s delicious.
Whatever you do, don’t add a fried egg – by God, that is just sacrilegious!
The bun can be laden with gluten and lard, the beef need not come from Japan.
You can grill it or broil it, on stove or on flame, in a cast iron skillet or pan.
Its invention is claimed by multiple folks. Some say it was born in the west;
Some say Kentucky and others say Denver and everyone thinks they know best.
Well, whoever decided to slap on that cheese and throw that ground beef on the grill
Should have earned a gold medal, a Hollywood star, and a monument up on a hill.
The cheeseburger’s part of a glorious feast of distinctly American things.
I hope we remember, this Fourth of July, the blessings our citizenship brings.
I suggest as we gobble our hot dogs and pie, and drink a Sam Adams (or two),
That we put down our phones and reflect on the things that this country allows us to do.
If you shut your eyes tightly and listen quite close, you’ll hear the American song:
A racecar’s low roar on a Darlington track, a freightcar chugging along.
A carousel ride at a carnival fair, the crack of a bat on a field,
Guitars being tuned on a boardwalk stage, a church’s bell vibrantly pealed.
A tenorman wailing just before dawn, the whoosh of an eagle in flight,
The choice of a dozen talk-radio shows to make us less lonely at night.
A cowboy’s rough boot on an old tavern floor and a trucker unpacking his load,
Sinatra’s voice and a shot of good booze and another one just for the road.
Now open your eyes and take a good look at the landscape we’re privileged to share.
Strap on a backpack and camp ’neath Sequoias and drink in the starry night air.
Pack up a Winnebago, instead, or hop on an overnight train,
Cross mountains and desert and wide fields of corn to the rocky coastline of Maine.
Rev up your Harley or jump in your car and seek an alternative byway
Like Route 66, or the Purple Heart Trail, or the fabled and eerie Blues Highway.
Marvel at Rushmore’s eminent shrine, see Nashville or old Santa Fe,
Silently raft through a bayou down south, go crabbing in Chesapeake Bay.
Or pull on your blue jeans and pick up a book, if you feel like you want to stay in.
Read some Walt Whitman, or try Langston Hughes, or spend some good time with Huck Finn.
Try watching a classic western, perhaps, directed by Sturges or Ford.
With all the saloons, and all of the barfights, and all of those whiskeys poured.
Check out some different musical styles, some truly American voices:
Leadbelly, Seeger, Guthrie, Odetta, are some of the earthiest choices.
Put on some hip-hop, some ragtime, or jazz, take records out of your trunk,
And listen to Usher, or Redbone, or Ella, or low-lying New Orleans funk.
While we count all our blessings, let’s never forget the rebels who once brought us here:
A gallop at midnight through Lexington’s streets and the warnings of Paul Revere.
Or the valorous statesmen whose brilliant resolve established the new Declaration,
As they swore on their fortunes, their honor, their lives to the fledgling and sovereign nation.
We’ve made our mistakes; God knows there’ve been plenty, and they’ve come at a terrible cost.
Consider the Native American tribes, and the lives and the lands that were lost.
Consider the sins that slavery wrought, remember the crosses that burned.
Consider the immigrants scorned and demeaned, remember the families interned.
But call me a patriot, call me naïve, allow me this simple contention:
That our modern-day impulses lean towards the good and are rooted in noble intention.
Think of the nurses, think of the cops, our pharmacists, farmers, and teachers.
Think of the folks who deliver our mail, the factory workers, the preachers.
Think of our immigrants chasing their dreams while leaving their countries behind.
Think of their hope, and think of their grit, not knowing quite what they will find.
America’s pluralism shores up our strength; we’re bolstered by all our dissension.
If one group completely misses a wrong, another group then pays attention.
So how ’bout we root for the underdog, leave lights on for neighbors in need,
Let’s offer our hearts to the wayward man, and bandage our comrades who bleed.
Test out the roads less traveled, my friends. And tamp down the cynical snark.
Let’s honor the heroes who gave us their lives, and the artists who left us their mark.
Due to popular demand, I am including, at the end of each blog post, the latest random diary entries that I’ve been posting on Facebook for “Throwback Thursday.” These are all taken absolutely verbatim from the lengthy diaries I kept between 1970 and 1987.
July 16, 1973 [age 17]:
“I was left alone again this weekend, so yesterday I endeavored to cook a meal by myself, consisting solely of a hamburger steak. Though I did manage to successfully heat up a pot of canned gravy, I also managed to destroy the hamburger. Every time Mom leaves me directions she says to put the burner on ‘two,’ and every time without fail I forget and use the quick-speed burner and – instant frazzle. The moment I threw the hamburger in, the instant there was contact between meat and cast iron, it turned black. So I tried to turn it over and it broke into a million tiny bits. It looked like dog food. I’m such a clod.”
July 17, 1973 [age 17]:
“Today began with a visit to the eye doctor and then to the optometrist, resulting in my finally winning the endless battle [with my parents] and choosing a pair of wire frames. I was thus consecrated a ‘hippie.’ ”
July 19, 1973 [age 17]: [NOTE: THIS ENTRY SHOULD WIN THE OSCAR FOR EXTREME MELODRAMA]
“I’m feeling desperately sorry for myself. Things are not going quite as I had thought, or hoped, they would. Pat is still not here, and I had hoped he would teach me how to dance. I’m missing Jeanne more and more. I’m realizing more and more that this is going to be another lonely summer, that I can forget about playing tennis altogether, that Jeanne is not going to be around any more. And working six days a week is wearing me out, grabbing hold of every spare minute of time, preventing me from doing the reading, and, more importantly, the writing I did so want to do this summer. My world is caving in on me; it’s getting hard to breathe. O, my God, my God, why have you forsaken me? I’m despairing, all my hopes shattered, countless broken dreams.”
July 21, 1973 [age 17]:
“I went to the [St. Victor’s 8th grade] reunion today. It was fun (though I ate too much) and super seeing everyone. But then I began drinking wine and beer, and for some reason I lost my head and kissed Mike [xx] and he tried French kissing which I’d never done, and I was revolted.”
July 27, 1973 [age 17]:
“The only thing of note I did today was go to the dentist. There, after miraculously surviving the fluoride ordeal [fluoride always made me gag], I was told that I still have to have a crown put on one of my bottom molars. Apparently, the filling is chipped beyond repair. It must be done, despite my protests and agonized looks. After Mom’s description of her experience with crowns I dread the whole process. She tells of hours of drilling, of reducing the poor tooth to a mere point, of driving a gold wedge into the gum. It sounds ghastly. After all my childhood encounters with the Dentist, times when in my traditional submission I endured pain without complaint, I now find myself reduced to a frightened baby. I both fear and hate dentists with surprising intensity, and I wonder if I will be able to last until August 13th without committing suicide.”