Patriotism that Beautiful and Dangerous Idiocy

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A great many of us agree with the proposition the annual fourth of July pig-roast should be permanently cancelled,

though I cannot help recalling the camaraderie in the fifties when all the women wore bonnets

and the men would bring blocks of ice in pickups from the ice plant in Hartselle to keep the drinks cold;

the banjos and the mandolins, someone always singing off-key at the top of their voice;

the pig hanging over the timbers glowing in the pit, and you should know, if anyone asks, the pig

is not an actual pig. The pig is history.

But does it matter, really, where, or which animal? It was not always a pig. In Johnson City, it was a lamb.

The men wore Hawaiian shirts, the women flowery mumus, a linguistic anthropologist played a harp.

In Tuscaloosa, it was a goat—Frank Allen told me one year “the goat” was a dog rescued from the pound.

In Illinois, it was a calf, 1989, a month after the massacre at Tiananmen Square, and a professor had invited

three Chinese graduate students. A great place in the country with a swimming hole and rope swing.

There were two British rock stars and Jim, who owned the farm and was a personal friend of Muddy Waters,

brought out a shotgun, a bucket of eggs, and a big sling-shot rubbered with the inner tube of a tractor tire.

The shooter would call “yolk,” and the egg rocket high above the pasture—you only had a fraction of a second

to shoot—only the best marksmen ever hit the egg, and I remember one of the Chinese students—

as he took the shotgun from Jim, he was shaking so I had to hold him steady. He shot wildly—

perhaps he was shooting to protect some dear friend, but the way the torque of the fear in his body

suddenly relaxed to laughter, I thought of orgasm, no volition in the noise rising from his throat—

for just that instant, he was one of us, American, he felt no embarrassment. He could do anything.