The U.S. fascinates me... I can recall back in the early 1970s... watching journalist Walter Cronkite on TV and watching Americans dying in some war... and yet... I was just in Buffalo, NY the week before and never saw any war... confusing... but fascinating...
That doesn't mean I understand what it means to be an American... but I do have a wee bit of understanding of what it takes to be an American living in Japan.
My best buddy in Japan was Matthew, and my first girlfriend there was Ashley... from the great States of New York and Georgia respectively.
Now, I'm going to excuse Ashley from this conversation for two reasons: she was my girlfriend and ex-girlfriend more times than I care to recall; and she was a woman... and I don't understand women.
I pity the man who thinks he understands women. I don't think women understand men, either, but I wouldn't dare state that out loud. So, shhh... I'll just keep that in my head.
Matthew certainly wasn't the only American I met in Japan, but he was the only one dumb enough to adopt me as his friend in Ohtawara-shi, Tochgi-ken between 1990-1993. For which I am always grateful.
A few days ago I posted an image of myself sitting on my western-facing balcony with my Canadian flag proudly waving over the streets of Ohtawara... a photo taken by Matthew from my northern-facing balcony. Yes, I had two balconies.
Only Matthew was brave enough to go onto my northern-facing balcony where the spiders were sleeping during the day... alighting downward as the sun sunk beneath the dirt at night.
Anyhow, to celebrate the Unites States of America's 200-something birthday (I'm the only brown guy who can't do math - which is why I am a writer), I wanted to recall one of those bang-up jobs Matthew and I embarked on together back on July 4, 1991... our first celebration of 'merica's birthday together.
One of the things that frightens me about Americans, is their love affair with fireworks. I love what the professionals do, but it's the average folk with them that scare the pants offa me.
My friends and I, back when I was 10 or so, got our hands on what were then illegal fireworks... tiny ass little 2-inch (50mm) crackers... no one died or got hurt, but I never had the nerve to light one up and chuck it at my friends like they did with each other.
In fact, 15 years later (or so), while in Japan, those firecrackers sat in a small metal tin in my dresser drawer back home... probably down there right now some total of 40 years+ later... I can't check because I've buried that dresser drawer in my comic book room. You ever see 100+ comic book long boxes stored in a small room like a paper pyramid? Maybe I'll show you one day.
Anyhow, that auspicious day in 1991, Matthew somehow got his hands on some fireworks. I don't know if they were illegal in Japan at that time... and I don't know why he wanted to celebrate with me, but he did.
We went out to some dark part of Ohtawara after 11PM... the sidewalks are rolled up in that city at 9PM, so the lights were off, and no one was around to see two gaijin horsing around with Chinese gunpowder.
I think we were at some sort of baseball diamond... Matthew set one down, lit the fuse and ran towards me like he had just dropped a hand grenade. KaBOOM!!!! An explosive rocket to the sky with some sort of color exploding over head.
My eyesight at night was never good... I can assume they were orange and red and green explosions... I don't know.
Matthew was whooping it up. Me, being a Canadian, I was reserved and politely yelled out how awesome that was.
Matthew grabbed another rocket and headed back to the place of carnage, lit the fuse, ran back towards me like he was looking for that foxhole to drop into, and... nothing.
Now... I've read enough newspaper stories about firecrackers not going off... and how this was actually the danger time... as you never knew when it could go off, if it was even going to go off...
Matthew, the brave American trotted back over to the dud of a Scud missile and gave it a kick... apparently that was what it was waiting for as it coiled and struck and went flying, you guessed it, right at me...
Maybe the gods didn't want Matthew the American to have to explain to the Canadian consulate why one of their visitors to Japan had died in some freak firebombing accident, but intercede the gods did, as the rocket suddenly veered off to my right and exploded in various colors, I assume... as I was too busy ducking and covering my head and privates.
I may even have peed a little.
Matthew was again whooping it up.
I was just hoping he couldn't smell my urine.
The bugger went and got a third rocket... and while I was chastising him for how that last one nearly hit me and how it could have killed him, he lit it and ran like the dickens once again. Ka-BOOM!!!
It's that fearlessness and lack of commonsense that makes me think that that is why no one wants to go to war against the US.
Perhaps sensing that all Canadian are wusses and smell like pee, Matthew dug out some sparklers, and lit them, giving me one as the phosphorous sprayed all over the place.
Yeah... happy birthday America. Damn you guys are crazy, fun buggers.
Oh, and behalf of all of us north of the border, I am really sorry we soon-to-be-Canadians once burned down the White House during the war of 1812. 54-40 or fight, eh.
Inane writing aside, what I got most out of that mini adventure was just how much of a friend Matthew was to me to invite his northern neighbor to celebrate with him.
He might as well... we Canucks had a hand in the lyrical creation of the American national anthem, too. (we had our own fireworks going on against Fort McHenry... and after the surprise survival, and the American flag still flying the next morning "And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there."
You're welcome... and yes, I know it was the British doing the shelling and not what would later pass for Canadians... but I was born in Great Britain (London, specifically)... so there.
And where was Ashley during this romp... well... I no longer recall 100%, but two options are available: one, she had gone home for the summer, or two, and this is my gut-feeling, she was already asleep in her apartment in neighboring Nishinasuno-machi.
Apparently I can be exhausting. And not in that good way... although...
Happy birthday, y'all,
Andrew "Still Number One" Joseph
PS: Image above is a circa 1950's ukiyo-e woodblock print by artist Kotozuka Eiichi (surname first) entitled Fireworks at Kamo River.