Some cultural hangovers are relatively benign, easily managed. Halloween is followed by days of perhaps too many stumbling through the daze of a sugared haze, some of whom only unwillingly abandon their costumes and pranks. November 3 and the crossing guard who sported a bright red nose and a painted smile on Halloween is today a ballerina. Christmas, that great consumerist holiday, is followed by department store sales crowded with anxious shoppers, ready and willing to continue their shopping spree begun when Thanksgiving announced opening of the season of buy-buy-buy. Valentine's day produces a glut of chocolate hearts that clog store shelves for weeks. Easter comes and goes, and the ASPCA sees a influx of fluffy peeping chicks or flop-eared bunnies who had spent a day hopping around backyards eating only jelly beans. We can handle all that . . . Americans are a nostalgic over-indulgent bunch -- we just can't give up our holidays. We keep 'em hanging around.
But what of those holidays that have an uncomfortable but perhaps rarely recognized core of violence, like Independence Day, the Fourth of July, celebrated with explosives -- firecrackers, rockets red glare, bombs bursting in air? What hangs out after that day of blowing off steam by blowing it all up?
Yesterday, July 6th, Oakland felt the pain of a July 4th hangover. Three shootings in one hour. One in East Oakland, one downtown, and one on 11th St, several short blocks from my house. Two men dead -- the man shot in East Oakland died shortly after being transported to the hospital, and the 18-year-old Richmond resident shot on 11th St died as he fell to the street.
This morning, I woke early and took my dog for a walk as I usually do. I did not walk by the site of the shooting. I walked instead to the corner house where grape vines fall over the fence, already heavy with great clusters of unripe fruit. I walked under the over-arching fig tree branches also laden with soon-ripe fruits. I walked past the small yard where the tiny octogenarian tends her glorious roses next door to the hand-made fence alive with jasmine and then wandered past the huge yard where the big old dog lies quietly in the yard, one eye open, keeping track of the rusty red chickens who wander about pecking at bugs.
I passed by the blooming schoolyard fence, let the pink flowers brush my sleeve. while the rich scent of sage filled my lungs, and waved to the Scotsman who always greets my little dog with an "ah, wee laddie, my countryman" as he speeds by on his bike, a huge grin on his black African face. I turned, let the low-hanging evergreen branches caress my scalp, and walked past the one plum tree showering miniature plums to the sidewalk below. I picked up several that had not smashed when plummeting to the ground and placed them gently in my pocket.
Then, I walked home, past the sidewalk garden with its towering sunflowers and struggling yet hopeful eggplants, still blooming in the cool foggy air. A grey cat slipped under the fence just as a small flock of sparrows settled down on the just-pruned oleander, and as I opened my gate, my extravagant lily greeted me -- my own Fourth of July hangover, still blooming. Above it, the olive tree, flush with slowly ripening fruit.