Oriental, North Carolina’s Fourth of July Fireworks were actually on Saturday the Seventh this year, to mark the ending of the town’s annual Croakerfest. I’m still not entirely clear on why a festival exists to celebrate a fish, but I didn’t ponder it too much. There were deep-fried Snickers to be eaten (never again), an oversized cardboard Mitt Romney, a parade where bystanders received both mini US flags and Mardi Gras beads, and, of course, the fireworks.
At dusk, my parents and I walked up the Oriental bridge, stopping near the apex. People were gathering, and I sat on the ledge to secure a seat. Soon, my mother started fidgeting around spastically, making worried noises, and pointing to the ledge. I jumped up.
“What?” I looked down. “Do you think someone peed on it?” Inexplicably, I’m always thinking some jerk has urinated on every public structure.
“Yes, that’s it.”
Quickly, I realized that was not it. It would never occur to my mother to even consider if the bridge had been peed on, because, as she likes to remind me, only I “worry about crap like that.” Plus, she would probably not be bothered by it. She thinks that dirt is your friend. She likes to tell this story about how Air Force satellites were built in pristine warehouses and ended up failing when launched into outer space. Navy satellites were built in muck and crap and were totally successful because the universe is dirty and full of crap. Moral of the story: you need filth to survive, so stop using antibacterial hand gel.
The barrier of the bridge is less than thigh-high. I deduced that she was worried about my toppling over the side so, to appease her, I stayed standing.
That was about when the Codger started talking to my mother. People are always talking to my mother because she’s bright and friendly and approachable and she talks back. I’m capable of being bright and friendly and approachable, when I choose to exercise it, which is not very often. Mostly, people just tire and annoy me, and I avoid them. Unless they are complete morons, in which case I will seek them out, because I suffer fools very gladly. But I digress.
After about 5 minutes, we had heard a synopsis of the Codger’s last thirty years, which included his various residences (Florida, North Carolina, his boat), the sailing life (he often set off flares illegally), and his grandchildren (several in Rhode Island). His wife sat about five feet away and I don’t think she said two words the entire time. Like my father and me, she was probably just dreading being pulled into the conversation and planning her escape should that occur.
We were saved from the Codger when the fireworks started. By then there were hundreds of people on the bridge and it was very dark. My uncle had warned us that it would be a “small-town, rinky-dink show,” but it was actually quite good. I did spend a good bit of time wondering, “Why do these teenagers keep walking back and forth in front of me and not watching the fireworks they trudged up here to see?” I also heard one side of a phone conversation that went something like this: “Which side are you on? … Well, I can’t see you … Are you on the side I’m on or the other side? … I’m on the side facing the water … I can’t see you. Can you wave your hand or something?” I thought that was awesome. (See above re: morons.)
After the finale, everyone descended into the town again. The town’s one policeman sat at the bottom of the bridge and I expected to be yelled at and prodded along as we passed by, like the cops do in D.C. anytime there’s a crowd. Instead, he was cheerfully greeting several by name and wishing people a good night. This is the kind of place that gets worked up when they have two thefts within a six-month period.
We managed to get away from the Codger with only a brief farewell in parting. Back home on my parents’ couch, I fell asleep right away, exhausted.