With the first customer, a gentleman from the neighborhood, a lawyer nearing retirement age, I converse with him with the French restaurants of the town, and of Paris. I mention the places on the general historical radar, the classics of Paris, Deux Maggot, La Coupole, La Rotonde, eateries from the Hemingway pantheon, mentioned in A Moveable Feast, I explain, and he's been there. "Hemingway was broke all his life. Patrons kept him going." He enjoys his pea soup, a pleasant green color, with mint and ham, and then his favorite of the old Gaul menu, potato crusted salmon. Two glasses of Pouilly Fuissé.
On the Fourth, I wake up late. One of the musicians from the Hot Club band is moving on, to the west coast with his wife. I pour him and the Englishman a late round, and myself a little chilled red, the night before. I wake up late. My cell fell down off the bed, and I didn't hear it vibrate as I snoozed under the sound of the fan of the window AC unit.
I think of American writers on this day. That sort of peculiar branch of literary beings. I think of their problems. Kerouac would have been okay, a good focussed workmanlike creature, had it not been for him branded "King of the Beats," strangers coming to knock on his basement window, there at his mom's house on Long Island, "hey, let's party." Hemingway, well, we know his work schedule, up early at first light, then writing, for a good five to six hours, but then, the drinking. Work, drinking, sometimes, involved, mutually wound together. Kerouac's adventures, with people like Neal Cassidy... And then, of course, their relationships with their mothers. People like them. And like the great American writer, Abraham Lincoln, often enough touched by depression, a whole list of them, one might gather, writers, humorists like Twain. A good background in the human saga and psyche.
The Fourth often enough seems a set-up for the kind of social disappointments, like missing the parade, the picnic on the National Mall as night falls, music, then fireworks, all the people belonging to the American herd, different walks, modest firework displays and smoke in immigrant alleyways, celebrations, cook-outs. And where does the lone writer fit in, on this day?
Well, he remembers those long efforts. As JFK spoke, at Amherst, a tribute to a poet, the contribution to the national character, their spirit, their reality.... Were they often enough as sometimes batshit crazy as Abraham and Mary? Well, sometimes, but like them, not always, honest workmen with decent concerns.
After the fireworks with good old friends... riding my bike home up past Volta Park, where there beneath the same trees in that same corner Jack and Jackie tossed the ball around with Bobby and Ethel, shorts, white tee shirts, just over there. Earlier past JFK's senatorial house near 33rd or 34th and N, Caroline held up high on that front stoop, Jackie looking on. Kids from Georgetown walking around, happy to celebrate, shorts, dressed for hot summer nights. The bridge, the place to watch the fireworks, and I wish to walk toward the arch, where you're over the river, the wind coming from the old nature along the Potomac. Cracks of local fireworks, the highlight finale from the Mall back eastward beyond Roosevelt Island, the glimpse of Washington Monument. Kennedy Center. The contradictions of America, to my left friendly Arabic speaker with friends speaking English, a Chicago Black Hawks tank top, to my right, a group of four, Waldorf Ink tattoo parlor ad, stocky kid with a rebel flag hat, a good load of chew in his right cheek, his girlfriend looking Indian or Native American, or Cuban, his buddy with Navy anchors tattooed on the back of his meaty calves.... Then the kids from the University, Georgetown, and unsmiling Russian families, curious, still taking the trouble to come, and I smile at the little blond kid, and wish him a Happy 4th, and that's the good vibe that we are all sharing, to be us, Americans, nodding to each other, wishing each other well, sweet families of six and seven and ten, on the bridge, over the empty canal, looking forward to the fireworks show, and everyone is basically wishing each other well, all the peoples of the world, and when I lean over and say to my Mauritius diplomat old master writer friend, to tell him the Chinese invented all this, to my right, there's a kid with short hair and glasses who's quite probably of Chinese ancestry, doesn't say anything, girls from Georgetown walking by...
And then packing for the trip. A family wedding. The writer's loneliness again, the loneliness of being poor, of having a job. Duties to attend to. I try slacks purchased years ago, for dress occasion, but I have put on bulk in my midsection. Too much pasta for staff meals, too much hunger, stress, not enough exercise, and here is The Tour de France, on television as I pack.