Sunday, July 3, 2011

Fourth of July.

Another Fourth of July is upon us tomorrow. The tempuratures are expected, here in Los Angeles, anyway, to be around 100 degrees for the day. Angie and I are flitting around to several cook-outs, fireworks displays, etc. We're quite the social butterflies this holiday weekend.

When I was a kid we had a houseboat at the Lake of the Ozarks in Southern Missouri and that was where we spent our Fourth of July, usually. We docked the boat at a place called 'Yacht Club Marina' which was a high-falutin' name for a rather run-down, little joint that docked a bunch of barely floating boats at the end of a scraggly, winding cove in a deserted part of the lake. For the uninitiated, however, if you said you were spending the Fourth at 'Yacht Club Marina' it sounded rather impressive.

The fun part of all that, though, was the bottle rocket wars we had when the sun set on 'Yacht Club Marina.' To this day I'm surprised I have all my fingers intact after these impromptu battles. We would light a bottle rocket, wait till the fuse was centimeters from the rocket, then toss it into the air with sure-minded agility so that it twirled once and then took off at the exact moment it was pointed in the direction of the enemy. Unbelievably careless. And yet, I don't recall anyone ever getting hurt or burned or otherwise injured.

This was the game we youthful ne'er-do-wells played while our parents got blind drunk and passed out on the rusting houseboats listing in the muddy cove.

As a professional actor, most of my Fourth of July memories are of doing plays at some theatre somewhere. Holidays for actors usually means two shows that day.

But the one Fourth of July that stands out in my mind had nothing whatsoever to do with fireworks. A buddy of mine in Chicago, a fellow C.A.D.C. counselor, called me a week or so before the fourth, and asked me if I would consider cooking ribs and burgers and chicken all day if he gave me five hundred dollars to buy it all. Huh? Well, he said, there's this homeless shelter on the North Side of Chicago and he wanted to give them a good Fourth. So I said yes.

Over the next week or so I begged, borrowed and stole as many BBQ grills as I could get my hands on and then got an old pick up and went around the city the day before picking them up. Around four in the morning on the day of the Fourth, with the help of a couple of friends, we started firing up the grills and slow-cooking the ribs. Slowly, as the morning wore on, smelling the ribs and burgers, the inhabitants of the shelter started filtering out to see what was going on.

Actually, everyone got in the way of the cooking, surrounding us, pushing in to see the grills, excited and surprised at the prospect of a great meal, and finally I had to put some Frank Sinatra on the boom box to clear them out so we could work. I discovered that cranking up Sinatra during his Vegas period really loud has the effect of scattering inner-city youth.

In any event, the day went off without a hitch and long about noon we had ourselves a feast. After everyone finished eating and wrapping up everything they couldn't eat and cleaning up and taking all the grills back to their respective owners, it was well into the night and I was exhausted.

And that is the Fourth of July I remember most fondly.

The point being I always find it remarkable how satisfied I am when I 'get outside myself' and do stuff away from my 'comfort zone.' I am virtually guaranteed a good day when I do it. Even if it's a small thing, a phone call to offer encouragment, a kindness not necessary, a deed, however small, designed to make someone else happy. Yes, it's corny and yes, it's not a new concept. But it works for me. I spend so much time living in my own mind, I sometimes start to think the universe actually does depend on my existence in order to keep spinning. And once that happens it is almost a certainty that I'll shortly find myself disgruntled and ill at ease with everything around me.

It's a funny thing, this doing-stuff-for-other-people business. The idea itself, 'service work,' altruism, is not appealing to me. I'd far rather do something that makes ME happy. And yet, oddly, it always makes me much happier in the end to do exactly the opposite. Not sure why this is, it just is.

And, oddly, it has nothing to do with making myself feel more 'moral' than someone else or more 'noble.' No, it simply takes me out of my self-centered life and thinking for a few seconds, a few hours, a day, whatever.

I highly recommend it.

A heartfelt happy Fourth of July to everyone. Be safe.

See you tomorrow.