Under a tree
near the cement shore of a man-made lake
in a Long Beach park near my apartment,
I look up and hear a squirrel running
along the tree’s branches above me.
Taking a break from an afternoon bike ride,
I’m lying on my stomach on the grass
next to my girlfriend—our bikes next to us.
A squirrel continues to break little pieces of bark
that keeps falling on my ass.
It’s pretty funny. Samantha and I
are cracking up.
That’s when my phone rings
with a Star Wars theme song in a disco groove.
Taking my cell phone out of my pocket,
I open the lid and say hello.
“Hey,” a friend of mine named Awful
says on the other line; we’d met
twenty years before while working
a banquet in Newport Beach.
We talk about the Fourth of July,
since that’s the holiday today.
Then I tell him I’m at a park near L.B.C.C..
“Lots of Mexicans?” he asks.
“Not so much today. More black families.”
I tell him how angry a lot of the black families
sound, cussing and shouting at each other.
He doesn’t listen and says,
“It pisses me off when I see Mexicans raising
a Mexican flag. They live in America now.”
“Uhhh,” I say, kind of chuckling.
“Okay, I see your point, Awful. Why not show some pride. But maybe it doesn’t represent a hatred
for America but a pride thing in their own culture.
I don’t think it’s right an imperialistic country
like America expects to eradicate other cultures
just because . . .” I cough and huff.
“Look, I just think cultures provide color, variety.
food and dishes, music, Cuban music, Latin music,
more customs, more . . .” I growl and huff again. “It’s wrong to murder culture, Awful. But it goes on in this country and you know it.”
He doesn’t say anything.
“And for what? I mean, yeah, America
has some culture. The blues, jazz, baseball. . . . and it’s beautiful. But on the whole, it’s roots
are financial and those roots have wrapped around what’s considered natural. Pop music, commercials, advertising . . . that’s all bullshit. Give up your identity for the smile of Ronal McDonald, do you think that’s worth telling these Mexicans? Do you think Ronald is that powerful, that he should be praised and not allow Mexican flags to be raised?”
He doesn’t answer.
“What does the 4th mean?” I ask him.
He mentions The American Revolution.
We talk about it. Then I mention
the knights of the Crusades,
how capitalism was first created
by these knights because they became wealthy
from Kings and Queens for protecting
the homeland from intruders and needed
a way to keep track of their money;
they’d devised a hell of a financial plan,
especially since they didn’t have to pay taxes.
“Huh,” he says.
“The knights became the bankers,” I continue,
“the kings and queens became the diplomats
and politicians and share holders,
and the priests in the Vatican
remained the priests in the Vatican.”
He doesn’t respond.
He isn’t sure what to say.
I’m all talked out and not sure what to say either
as birds chirp
and Mexican kids run around park benches
and ducks quack and flap their wings
in the lake in front of me
making splashing noises
that help drown the noise of cars
passing twenty yards
to the right.