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Fourth of July in Cayucos

Everyone loves a parade, especially the one in Cayucos, Calif.

Cayucos loves a parade, especially the one that celebrates our liberties on the Fourth of July.

The following essay is an account of a typical Fourth of July celebration that happened not many years ago and is repeated annually in our small town by the sea.

by Stacey Warde

I’m raw and unbalanced, hung over from a bout with beer and whisky. I skipped going to work today. It’s gray, overcast and generally gloomy.

Besides, it’s a Saturday, and a Fourth of July weekend. I hate working weekends, especially holidays, but I’m getting used to it. In this economy, few can afford to turn down work.

I awakened early, before 7 a.m, and rode my bicycle to the park to practice aikido, a Japanese martial art designed to defuse conflict, with a friend. We do it regularly, but it’s been a long time since we’ve practiced. It helps me keep an even temper.

Even with a hangover it felt good to tussle and talk. We usually talk politics and the economy. He hasn’t worked in nearly four months; I’m barely employed, working as a farmhand and laborer.

“There’s no work around here,” he says. “I may have to drive down to San Diego to pick up some work.”

He’s a union carpenter and, until recently, supported a family of six. His four children are grown and graduated from high school. Finances aren’t as critical now as they used to be. Still, like everyone else, he needs to pay the bills.

“If I was smart, I’d find something to do with the military,” he says, “that’s where all of the money is.”

Everyone but the banks and military is bankrupt, I say. “What’s wrong with this country?” We launch into another frustrated, cynical litany of ills that plague our nation: Militarism, greed, corruption in government and business, a weak economy and an empire in decline.

“This can’t go on forever,” he says, “we’re more than a trillion dollars in debt.” If anything, the message of the last few years of economic failure has been: The party’s over. The excesses of our revered material lifestyle have drained our accounts and left us empty handed.

Most Americans, hopeful as ever, seem to think the party has merely lapsed into a sustained lull. Things will get better, they say. The markets will regain their vigor, jobs will become available, and spending will save the republic.

Glossy red, white, and blue plastic streamers wave in the wind from houses along Ocean Avenue, which runs through the middle of Cayucos, the small California coastal town where I live, where every Fourth of July floats and troops of scouts, drill teams, and grass-skirted dancers celebrating the Declaration of Independence will march in a show of America’s love for “freedom.”

Cayucos loves a parade, and its freedom. Our small town plays host to more than 20,000 visitors during the Fourth. They come to celebrate their freedoms by eating hotdogs, playing in the sand, and shopping at the “Peddler’s Fair,” known by locals as “Crap on the Creek,” mostly throw-away junk ware.

The word “freedom” gets tossed around pretty easily these days, as if we all agree on what it means: Freedom of the press, speech and religion; the protection of personal effects from government search and seizure, the right to trial by a jury of peers, the right to bear arms.

More often, however, “freedom” becomes an amalgam of unspecified ideas and feelings, which patriots will defend to the death, about what it means to be an American, which usually includes waving the flag, getting goose bumps during the singing of the national anthem, and chanting “U-S-A!” at soccer games.

Upon closer review, this muddle of feelings and ideas about freedom just as likely arises from the belief that Americans are unique in exercising their right to get rich by whatever means possible, to spend money freely without end or hindrance, even when there isn’t any to spend.

“Freedom isn’t free,” we’re told in countless bumper stickers meant to remind us of the sacrifices that have been made on our behalf. Soldiers, mostly young men and women, have given their lives to ensure we continue to enjoy the clear advantages of being an American, including the right to spend our diminished earnings at any big box store outlet of our choosing.

Fourth of July, as often as not, has come to be celebrated not so much for the Declaration of Independence from tyranny as for America’s great military empire and raw technological power, which still has not squelched terrorism, but nonetheless allows us to conduct full-scale war without the requisite sacrifices at home.

We can still shop at Wal-Mart and Costco and spend freely without guilt while others shed blood in foreign lands to stop the amorphous terrorist cells sprouting everywhere like a cancer across the globe.

“The military isn’t protecting me,” my friend says as we grapple. “My tax dollars are supporting the slaughter of civilians. That’s not independence.” Independence is being able to protect yourself, he suggests. “I don’t need the military to do that.”

In my weakened mental state, I don’t argue the point. He’s right, the War on Terror, as most wars, was a sham from the start. It’s a racket for making people rich. We still haven’t stopped terrorism and maybe never will, our invasion of Afghanistan has become America’s longest-ever war, and the Taliban and its cohorts in other parts of the world are as strong as ever.

“Why are we spending all our money over there?” he asks. “We need it here.” We could better use our resources to buttress education, healthcare, improve failing infrastructures but so much of it, he says, gets lost in the shuffle to ship arms and troops to places known and unknown.

CITY-LIFE.4TH-OF-JULY.IMG_3406Already, chairs have been placed in a mass claim for seating along the parade route. Police tape has been pulled through lines of chairs, marking seating sections between groups of the nearly 20,000 spectators who will gather for the parade.

They come from all points: San Francisco, Fresno, Bakersfield, Los Angeles. It’s the busiest day of the year for our little town of less than 4,000.

The parade features the usual Independence Day amusements: Spectators waving American flags, young gymnasts cartwheeling, local bands rocking out on flatbed trucks, grannies dressed in patriotic colors, waving to the crowd from old jalopies.

Once, an outfit of youngsters from Fresno, dressed in paramilitary uniforms, marched crisply in rigid formation, looking distressingly similar to the goose-stepping Brownshirts who helped the Nazis in their rise to power. They were impressive in their military crispness, their quick response to marching commands.

“I’m not that patriotic,” my friend says. “It’s all a gimmick.” If they can get you to believe their story, such as “we need this war,” he adds, they can get you to do anything they want, like put on a uniform and fight their wars, making the “ultimate” sacrifice, in the name of freedom and democracy. Mostly, such rhetoric is pure bullshit, he says.

Still, we love to celebrate our freedoms, even if they have diminished to little more than buying hotdogs and posting bumper stickers with patriotic slogans.

One year, one of the grass-skirted matrons from a beach-chair drill team bolted from the formation as it approached the entry point of the parade. “Hey!” she shouted and waved, beckoning me to wait for her. She ran to me in a heat and threw her arms around my neck, firmly pressed her middle-aged buxomness against my body, and planted her lips on mine.

The rank smell of alcohol at 10 in the morning assaulted my senses. Before I could pull away, I felt her tongue probing my mouth. “Yuck!” I turned my head away and slipped out of her arms. She ran back to her group as if nothing had happened, happy and drunk as ever.

Cayucos is a friendly place. “Did you see that?” I asked my then-girlfriend.


“She just rammed her tongue down my throat.”

“Yeah, right.”

You never know what’s going to happen at the Cayucos Fourth of July parade, but one thing’s sure: Just about everyone here’s proud to be an American, with or without their hangovers, and more so because we work hard and take pride in putting on a good show for our love of freedom.§

Stacey Warde is publisher of The Rogue Voice.com.


Wall art on Clarion in Street San Francisco

by Dell Franklin

Fall, 1968

I was dwelling like a mole in a subterranean garret in San Francisco and trying to land a bar-tending gig after working the past summer at Harrah’s in Lake Tahoe as a bar boy. But I soon found out San Fran was a union town and there was no chance for a 24-year-old newcomer to break in. In short order, my priorities were finding a good watering hole, a job, and a woman, or, better yet, getting laid, as I’d been on a brutal drought.

The city economy was booming and I went to an employment agency where a savvy lady felt since I was clean-cut and an army veteran and scored high on an aptitude test and cheated to pass a psychological evaluation, I was prime salesman material.

Meanwhile, after considerable searching in the meat-market bar scene, I found Danny’s in the Marina, a hallway size affair with a pool table in back, and a blue-collar, working-class crowd I instantly forged a rapport with. Danny himself was enthused I’d found a job as salesman with Graybar Electric, a huge corporate supply company in the industrial belt across Market Street.

I reported to work in the same cords and white short-sleeve shirt and snap-on tie I wore to the agency interview and with the man who hired me, Bernie, to whom I reported at the monstrous drab three-story building after a night of celebratory boozing in Danny’s. The level on which I was to be employed was lined with desks of typing secretaries and salesman talking on phones, scribbling on invoices, or paging through telephone-book size catalogues of items and prices. Everybody was terribly busy. They smoked and drank coffee. There was no conversing among employees. Alongside this hive were private offices where older, rather portly men in beautiful suits signed papers, talked on the phone and, from time to time, patrolled the room, visiting, asking and answering pertinent questions, attempting amiability to boost morale. Pictures of these men were displayed along walls above their offices. I was issued a corporate handbook in which there were capsule biographies of these men, along with an outline for success within the corporation.

“To begin with, Rick,” Bernie said. “This is not exciting work. It can be confining for a restless person. You are always at your desk, working the phone, consulting the catalogue. This can be tedious and demands patience and persistence.” He watched me stifle a yawn. “Of course, after a while, you can move from the desk to the road. You’ll have an expense account, travel. I’ve done both. At this point in my life, with wife and kids, I like it here. I see you’re not married.”

“Not yet, Bernie.”

“Okay. Well. I’m going to start you out with one of our top salesman—Bill Rogers. He started out like you, and last year he was employee-of-the year throughout the country!”

I sat next to Bill at his large steel desk that was a-sprawl with manuals, invoices, and the giant catalogue. He was pale, clean-cut, chipper. A framed picture of his wife and two children stood at the corner of his desk. His handshake was solid. He was busy, working his phone, calling on trade in all parts of America, displaying an easy familiarity and rapport with each person, like old friends.

After a while, I asked, “You ever meet any of these people?”

“Oh no.”

“Don’t you want to meet them?”

He paused. “If I go to a convention. But I’m not one for conventions. I’m not a drinker or a partier. I’m a family man.”

“So they’re just voices…without faces or bodies, huh?”

He seemed impatient with my questioning, wanted only to discuss my training. He was not one iota interested in me as a person, like I was not a face or body. I was just a project.

“Some of these secretaries are cute. Do you have company parties, where I could meet some of them?”

He sighed. “No. Now, Mr. Kelso, the first thing you might do is take home a copy of our catalogue and study it.”

He was actually too busy to train me the first day. I paged through the handbook, reading bios. A striking red-haired man around my age, swinging his ass, dropped Bill off a cup of coffee and appraised me with fleeting distaste before dropping off more cups to other salesmen.

“Who’s the haughty queen?” I asked Bill.


“What’s his problem?”

He sighed. “Just read the catalogue, okay?” He returned to his phone. Time crept by slowly as I grew bored with the catalogue and handbook. I peered around in hope of finding an interesting face. There were no blacks, Latinos or white low-brows.The handbook contained no pictures of blacks or Latinos. I felt perhaps there were minorities in the packaging and shipping area downstairs.

At lunch I attended a room of long tables where dozens of secretaries and salesmen ate box lunches or food from the automat. Edward hung with the girls. The salesmen talked about clients, mortgages, their kids, vacation deals, the 49ers, etc. Bernie, among them, kept an occasional eyeball on me. From time to time he conferred with Bill. Some of the secretaries appeared uneasy and flashed me dirty looks when I stared at them too long, trying to keep my boner down as I fantasized fucking them in my miserable garret. Edward also shot me a look if disdain. So I polished off my sandwich and returned to the desk where Bill was still nonstop busy and I spent the next four hours watching the hands of the big clock on the wall inch toward 5. I was never so exhausted.

Afterwards I drank at Danny’s and later had a chili cheese dog at the Doggie Diner and passed out and reported to work at 8. Early on, I found myself closely studying not only the offices of the executives as I took little strolls to break up the monotony of studying the catalogue, but their smiling yet sober visages on the walls. One of these men caught me observing him, and I nodded as he peered up from his desk from paperwork, and he nodded back, but I could sense he was not impressed with me.

“Bill,” I said, after lunch the second day. “You like this job?”

He was very, very busy, since Christmas was near. “Of course.”

“Are you passionate about your work?”

He sighed, dropped his pen. “Listen, do YOU like the job?”

“I’m trying to.”

I kept drinking coffee, because there was nothing else to do. I became jittery, started sweating. I switched around a lot and cleared my throat and rubbed my itchy nose and made several trips to the water fountain and restroom to piss. After my second day I was so drained I could barely drag myself across the industrial blight and catch a bus to Danny’s, where I got drunk, forgetting to eat. Everybody wanted to know about my new job as I sat with tie in pocket, shirt open at the throat. Next morning I arrived at work an hour late with nicks on my face, some of which were clotted with dabs of toilet paper. I sat down beside Bill and he cringed at the sight and smell of me. I was sweating cold bullets. The red-headed queen flounced by me, sniffing sourly.

“Edward!” I called. “Get me some coffee!”

He halted in his tracks, hands on hips. “Pardon me?”

I flashed him a look of icy malevolence and he quickly slammed a cup of coffee on the desk and huffed off before I could thank him. Bill was on the phone and I blindly paged through the catalogue with quivering fingers when I was not staggering—on the verge of puking—to the drinking fountain to gulp copious spouts of water as salesmen and secretaries and Bernie at the big desk up front peered over. I finally visited the john to puke violently into a toilet. When I returned to the desk, Edward, to his credit, brought me another cup of coffee and appeared sympathetic. I had slept in my sweat-and-coffee-and-beer-stained shirt and now Bernie repeatedly glanced at me. I began to shake uncontrollably. My clothes were bathed in cold seat. My scalp itched and burned. I scratched at it like a man aflame with lice. My legs went numb. My heart beat like a parakeet’s and I gulped for breath.

San Francisco wall art on Clarion Street

Wall art on Clarion Street in San Francisco

“Bill!” I said, standing. “You’d better call the paramedics for me!”

He was on the phone, covering it. “Not now!”

“I need a fucking doctor, man.”

“Listen, jackass, what are you doing here?”

“I don’t know, Bill, but I gotta get the fuck outta here. I can’t breathe.” Sweat dripped off my face. A foul stench emanated from me—a toxic effluvium equivalent to a dead seal rotting on shore. I careened across the room, bouncing off desks like a runaway pinball while employees cringed and ducked for cover or stood to observe my demise. I arrived at Bernie’s desk gnashing my teeth.

“Bernie, I gotta get outta here!”

He stood. “Mr. Kelso, please calm down!”

“I can’t! I’m going nuts in here. I suffer claustrophobia.”

“Perhaps this is not the right job for you…”

“No job is right for me!” I ripped off my tie and hurled it at one of the walls. All the executives were out of their offices, stood at the doors. I reached out and shook Bernie’s hand with my clammy paw. “You’ve been more than fair.” I dashed to the door.

“We’ll send you a check in the mail,” Bernie called.

“You don’t have to. I did nothing but sit.”

“We have to.”

“Okay, okay.” I fled the place. Dashed across the industrial blight and caught a bus to Danny’s. The sweat dried up on me and I ceased shaking. Danny fed me two hotdogs and everybody bought me drinks and I told them I could not handle a white collar job and quit. Soon they were all advising me on finding a new job. I never found one I liked, and never got laid, and ended up thumbing across the country and working on a riverboat out of New Orleans. §

Dell Franklin tended bar and drove a cab for a living for many years before retiring to his hovel in Cayucos to write full time, and care for his very needy rescue dog, Wilbur.