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As the United States celebrates its 232nd birthday this year, the District of Columbia celebrates its 208th anniversary of having to throw the party. Each July Fourth, thousands of parade-and-pyrotechnic-seeking 50-staters invade D.C., using us for our expansive public spaces before staging a hasty retreat back to their taxation-with-representation homes. What have the states done for us lately, other than leaving us to clean up the mess of the melted gelatin pool at the end of the nation’s proverbial flag-colored Jello cake?
Nothing. Which leads us to our first recommendation:
The tourist is D.C.’s eternal adolescent: wanting everything but knowing nothing. Let America’s tweens throw a party on your lawn while you invade their home turf. Our pick: Philadelphia, where this year’s Sunoco Welcome America fete’s theme is a novel “Celebrate Freedom!”
Listen to President Bush’s Speech
Independence Day, with its exaggerated but meaningless patriotism and its totally awesome explosions, is the one day that W is really in his element. Last year, Bush’s speech included jokes about Laura Bush staying at home to fire up the grill (the July Fourth version of “stay in the kitchen”) and celebrating the holiday by firing off small arms into the air (particularly prescient given the Supreme Court’s overturning of the gun ban). Last year’s Bushism: “This isn’t the first time our country has celebrated the Fourth of July.”
Hit Up the
Smithsonian Folklife Festival
This year, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival features the cultures of the kingdom of Bhutan (great), Texas (OK), and NASA (huh?). Hit the two-to-one American-dominated festival on the Fourth to observe traditional Bhutanese archery, sample Texas’s chicken-fried steak and Vietnamese soups, and discover NASA’s long history of “stirring the public imagination,” now a Smithsonian-approved “craft.” While it may seem odd that the Smithsonian has chosen our own nation’s spacemen to help foster its goal of “cultural democracy,” perhaps it is time, at long last, to begin the process of intercultural understanding with those strange, puffy-suited explorers of the cosmos. What song, dance, and celebratory performances will these excessively funded cultural pioneers impart to us Earthlings? Just a lesson: Sometimes you have to love your own government agency before you can learn to love an isolated agrarian South Asian kingdom.
Resist the Seductive Draw of the Free
Huey Lewis & the News Concert
There’s nothing like celebrating freedom with free stuff. This Fourth, Huey and hangers-on are performing at the free Capitol Fourth concert on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. Lewis will be joined by Jerry Lee Lewis (no relation), one (1) American Idol, and Jimmy Smits of CBS television drama Cane fame. Sounds great, right? Wrong. According to the site, Huey et al. “will perform a selection of patriotic and celebratory music,” or as I like to call it, “Not ‘I Want a New Drug.’” A selection of patriotic and celebratory music did not make America great. Soft, soft, rock did.
Why stick to the states? July Fourth also-borns include Rube Goldberg, Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren, Koko the sign-language gorilla, Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Radio Free Europe, and, if you’re feeling particularly unpatriotic, the city of Trois-Rivières, Quebec.
Adopt an Irrational Sense of Entitlement
The Fourth of July holds one perk for D.C. residents. The day gives them the opportunity to justify their pet causes/bad habits/unsafe pyrotechnics-handling skills with one phrase: “This Is America.” Take, for example, the Fourth of July Hemp Coalition, which found the holiday so convenient to its hodgepodge of soapbox issues that it named its entire movement after it. At this year’s 38th Annual Fourth of July Smoke-In in Lafayette Park, the coalition will use the catchall day to “Exercise [Its] Right to Assemble,” “Free Nonviolent Drug Offenders,” “Support Medical Marijuana,” “Stop State Sanctioned Murder,” “Stop Mass Imprisonment,” “Stop the Torture,” “Stop the War,” and “Stop the Madness!!!!!” (Order of importance of pet causes nonsensical, because this is America).
Skip the Mall
Ever the muse of amateur wall-calendar photographers, the fireworks over the National Mall are rivaled only by the spectacle beneath them: muddy, dehydrated, and confused humans. Thanks to the failure of Mayor Adrian Fenty’s attempted emergency firework ban, opt instead to watch the pyrotechnics in the convenience of your own hand, preferably while ignorant of fireworks safety, intoxicated, and wearing a tank top emblazoned with a crying eagle, because this is America.
Don’t Wake Up
On July 5, the whole country will be hungover; don’t be surprised if America wakes up to find a text message from Great Britain saying that no, it won’t take it back. The air will smell like it smoked the wrong end of the cigarette. Take the Saturday off to dream of statehood.
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