Two days is a long time for us to be apart, galleons. Did it hurt you as much as it hurt me?
Every Fourth of July since I was a child, I have settled down in the evening after a long day of sunshine, opened a soda, turned on Sci Fi, and watched The Twilight Zone marathon.
Except this year, apparently.
First, you changed your name to “SyFy” to stop being associated with nerds and geeks as much. You were trying to be hip. To make some new friends. I get that. But did you really have to change everything you were just to please them?
Rod Serling’s genius has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. And every goddamn year I look forward to the Fourth. Not for the fireworks or the food or the parades or the freedom celebrating or any of that shit.
I look forward to it because The Twilight Zone has always been there. I curl up on the couch (or in my bed late that night) and watch The Obsolete Man or Time Enough at Last or Five Characters in Search of an Exit or The Eye of the Beholder. I’ve seen them all a dozen times. I adore them. Like the stories of Ray Bradbury or the enigmatic Mysteries of Harris Burdick I would encounter later in life, these stories were bizarre, well-crafted, and just believable enough to stick with you long after they were over.
But this year, instead of getting my annual injection of black-and-white-and-eerie goodness… I got jack shit.
Way to drop the fucking ball, SyFy.
I found a coffee shop in Cody.
This might not seem significant to you, but there are no coffee shops around here. That kind of thing is for fancy city-folk, what with their cup-a-chinos and whipped cream. Here we drink our coffee black, made in a rusty metal coffeepot over a campfire. With our horses hitched up behind us. And our pistols in our hands, prepared for any sudden movements. Or liberals.
Anyway, it’s hidden away on a rarely-traversed side street. The Beta. Even the exterior looks jarringly wrong against the backdrop of the surrounding shops. It made me think of Ithaca and its cobblestone backstreets and independent film theater.
I couldn’t help myself.
I went in.
Inside, it looked like every other coffee shop. Overstuffed couch in a corner by a bookshelf. Tables and chairs that have been painted by someone with artistic inclinations. Poetry and funky artwork on the walls. But it wasn’t pretentious. It was…
Quaint. It felt like home to me (especially when that first wave of coffee-scent hit my nose, that undeniable aroma that all coffee shops that are not Starbucks [I don’t hate Starbucks, mind you, I just always think they smell different than other coffee joints] share).
A man held the door for me. An older gentleman, with a snazzy hat and tweed jacket. He had kind eyes. When I thanked him, he ushered me further in the door, recommending “the tea, luv.”
He was British. I wanted to hug him real bad. Because he seemed like the sort of kindly British chap you should hug.
I had to wait in line, as there was only one girl working the counter. I let my eyes wander over the walls. The indie/hipster/artsy feel washed over me.
Something was tugging at my brain, but I couldn’t place it. Frowning, I looked away. There was still someone ahead of me, so I looked back over at the wall.
There. In the corner. It was a large, framed picture. Only it wasn’t a picture, was it? It was a piece of embroidery. It was white and covered in all kinds of green letters.
What was that in the corner there? “Beaumont Tower”? What the…
The top of the piece read “Michigan State University.” And covering the piece of white fabric were name after name I recognized. Akers. The Wharton Center. Pinball Pete’s. The Red Cedar River. Things like “The Fight Song!” and “Welcome Week” and “Cedarfest” were squished between “Residence Halls” and “SBS.” And there were things I didn’t recognize (according to one corner that read “1991,” I can only assume this was someone’s graduation gift back then), like “HobbitStix.” Were they another name for Pokey Stix, or something completely different?
I ordered in a daze, then moved closer to the wall to wait. I let my eyes dart from place to place on the embroidery, drinking in the names I knew so well.
When my drink was finished, I picked it up, then drifted back to the wall for one last look. As I finally turned away, I saw another poster not two feet from the embroidery. At the bottom of the poster was a French phrase:
Les Liaisons Dangereuses.
My blood ran cold. That these two things were in Cody was strange enough. That they were both on the wall of this coffee shop was too bizarre for me to cope with.
It was too surreal. And too many memories were threatening to rear their heads.
This was the first year I saw the Greybull firework display.
And if there is one thing this town does right, it’s that.
I stood on the bridge, alone, hands shoved in the pocket of my sweatshirt. I could feel the heat of my sunburned skin pulsing inside the garment. With amusement, I watched a few groups of people start setting off their fireworks by the river. While technically illegal, the cops in Greybull tend to turn a blind eye to firework activity on the Fourth.
I was waiting for the town’s show to begin. I could see them all arranged along the bluffs, their forms dark shadows in the twilight.
And then they began.
For the record, every year I try to one-up myself with the music I listen to during the fireworks. Because I never talk during them, even when I’m with a group. I always put my headphones in, lean back, and just watch. I don’t know if I was just sleep deprived and lucky, or if I was hit with a flash of insight three times, but I found three perfect tracks to play during the show (the thing lasted 40 minutes, so I let each of these loop a few times before I felt the need to move to the next).
I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire The Ink Spots (great in the beginning, when you’re keyed up and excited- the juxtaposition of explosions with these lyrics is fantastic)
Electrical Storm U2 (wait on this one until they really get into the show and the sky is full of the trailing smoke from previous fireworks, because as the new fireworks come in and light up the trails from the old, the result looks like a brilliant lightning storm)
Song of Freedom Murray Gold (this one is the end song, the finale bit, the one to wrap the whole experience up and leave you feeling that sense of cleansing awe)
And so I stood there, watching this display, after images bright on my retinas, the crashing booms shaking my whole body, and I thought.
I thought about fire. Explosions. War. Air raids. Neurons. Synapses. Consciousness. Thunderstorms. Rain. Kerrigan. The Zerg Overmind. The Borg Hivemind. Death. Entropy. Stars. Fireflies. Electricity. Fractals. Symmetry. Spheres. Conic sections. Perspective. Causality. Fairies. Weeping willows. The sun. Hydrogen fusion. Helium fusion. The atomic bomb. Oil painting. Waterfalls. Volcanoes erupting. Flowers. Crystals.
I thought about beauty in the midst of darkness.
I thought about you.
I thought about watching those fireworks with you. Standing there, the two of us sharing a set of headphones, leaning my head on your shoulder. Just watching.
It was my favorite thought of them all.