Like every other American of this benighted century, I spend half my time trying to figure out what the hell's been happening and the other half pretending that everything is perfectly normal, that underneath it all everything is just the way it always was, and that it's all in your mind anyway. But in the dark moments of stark honesty - and honesty can be as stark as terror any day and is often the same thing - I've got to admit that the roof is leaking, the floors are warped, the fireplace keeps blowing soot back into our face, and the John has developed a permanent gurgling retch that keeps you awake at night and even blue water in the bowl is no help.
What happened? Where did we stumble? Everything started out so great. We had such a fine set of handsome, clear-eyed, idealistic Founding Fathers with faces perfect for carving on the sides of mountains. And now look at us!
Knee-deep in beer cans, candy wrappers, rusty hubcaps and broken dreams.
Now, I'm not one to wring my hands. But for anyone truly interested in just where the Great American Game Plan became untracked,there are a few glaring clues around. Take holidays. It's an anthropological fact that there isn't a clan, a tribe, or a nation around the globe worth its salt that doesn't have a fine, vibrant set of traditional national holidays.
We as a nation have failed in this important anthropological duty, and what holidays we seem to have had for a while are now rapidly pooping out, until most of them resemble nothing more than an awkward three-day weekend. And a three-day week-end which comes at the damnedest times, like for instance the middle of February or right in the middle of July, smack in the center of what is your vacation anyway.
I got to thinking about our holidays and what's happened to them.
They've mostly become mere shadows or parodies of their former selves. For example, I've given up entirely, personally, on Veterans' Day. This past year it seems to have been celebrated, if at all, on at least four different dates. Philadelphia had it on one day, New York on another, and I guess most of the other states just split the difference. And they can't even decide what to call it any more. It used to be Armistice Day, then Veterans' Day, and now since veterans are no longer popular, it has such great names as National Observance Day or Let's Take Next Monday Off Day. A few hearty old soreheads will trudge around in the rain wearing Legion hats but nobody will watch, and even Walter Cronkite will ignore them.
How about the Fourth of July?
It used to be Independence Day, but since the word 'Independence' smacks suspiciously of raging mobs, shouted obscenities and chanting slogans, with the Ambassador trapped in the Legation while helicopters roar overhead, we've quietly decided to let that one slide silently down the ways into the Sargasso Sea of oblivion. It seems just yesterday that the Fourth was roundly celebrated by Cletus and Big John hurling four-pound cherry bombs under their friend Art's Chevy, and when the hood blew off and sailed 300 feet in the air and bounced off the roof of the school everybody in town cheered, and the police band played the "National Emblem March." Good God, there was a real holiday, as colorful, exotic and inexplicable as anything the natives of Bolivia could cook up! But now the fourth of July is just another day tacked on to another weekend, and it doesn't even get as hot as it used to.
Freud has completely killed Mother's Day. I know one guy who told his analyst that every year he sends his mother a little gift on Mother's Day and the analyst stopped him in mid-sentence and said: "Aha, just as I suspected: a well-defined Mother Fixation. No doubt your submerged Homosexual tendencies are. . ."
My friend leaped off the couch and rushed out into the street, and since that time he not only does not observe Mother's Day, he tears the page out of the calendar, takes no phone calls for 24 hours, and his mother, confused by the whole scene, is under the impression that he has become a merchant seaman and is living in Port Said between trips.
I, personally, do not know anyone, anywhere, who at any time celebrated Father's Day, in spite of repeated urgings by men's stores all over the land to Send Dad a special gift this year. He'd look great in our vinyl double-breasted four-in-hand foulard. It never really caught on, since fathers in our country are usually portrayed as so many Archie Bunkers, and who sends Archie a gift?
Thanksgiving has become actually dreaded by many erstwhile celebrants. When the very earliest Americans sat down to that first meal giving thanks for their deliverance after the first year of suffering and the Indians crept out of the woods bearing gifts, and together they consumed that fateful first leather-muscled wild turkey, they knew not what they had spawned. A national day of prayerful thanksgiving, of prayerful contemplation of our good fortune and our narrow escape from baleful disaster? Not on your American Express card, my friend. I haven't heard an honest expression of thanksgiving, or thanks for anything, in so long that I wouldn't know how to field it if it came along. It is not in the American tradition to give thanks, at least these days. Now, if we had a National Unconditional Demand Day I suspect every last one of us would celebrate it with a will, eyes asparkle.
Not only is Thanksgiving a philosophical problem, but admit it, we are now a nation of dieters. The first maker of low-cholesterol, calorie-free chestnut turkey stuffing is going to really clean up, especially if he can couple it with the development of a diet drumstick. We might consent to sit down at the symbolic groaning board, but until then most people will fiddle around with their pumpkin pie and finally wind up drinking black coffee, nibbling a little at the parsley, and then get back to the Bears-Packers game as soon as they can politely get away from the table.
It must be damned embarrassing these days to be a turkey. It's like being born a meatloaf. Must be very difficult for an elder turkey to explain to his children what the future holds for the turkey race and how grand and glorious their past was before they learned to do all that basting and flag-raising.
Lincoln's Birthday is increasingly controversial. There are still many in the Republic who regret the passing of slavery and look upon Honest Abe as the one who started all our troubles, which finally led to everything from World War Two to car-stripping and Muhammad Ali. Personally, I celebrate Abe's birthday by sipping a little bourbon, Lincoln's favorite beverage, and plotting on how to free the bonds of my slavery. But as a national holiday it lacks the requisite of a true Folk festivity - symbolic parades and ritualistic incantations. Not only that, but Lincoln has been taken over by the Appliance trade and every year thousands of inept actors wearing nylon chinwhiskers, putty noses and cardboard stovepipe hats appear in
commercials describing One Day Only Honest Values etc. etc. etc. It doesn't do much for the memory of the Illinois rail-splitter, but then when did Easterners ever pay much attention to the Midwest anyway?
Now we come to one of the true biggies of our holiday calendar-Christmas. It's not that Christmas has disappeared. Quite the contrary. It's gotten to be such a gigantic blockbuster that people begin to get a bit twitchy and inwardly nervous as early as the last week of August. Conscience-ridden, harassed, their eyes dart as day by day falls off the calendar and a tiny voice deep inside keeps yelping: "For God sakes, man, you haven't even started your Christmas shopping! Is it gonna be last year all over again? Or the year before that or the one before that? You'd better start buying now, man, I'm warning you. It's already August 25th. Christmas is right around the corner, and. . ."
Now what the hell kind of holiday is that? Does the nation look forward to it with untrammeled joy, with eager anticipation? No, almost to a man they are gripped by panic. The sense of imminent failure. They join Clubs hoping to systematically save enough pennies per week so that this Christmas will not reduce them to abject poverty. Does one see glass angels, tiny elves building sleds, ethereal fragrant fresh-smelling pine trees hung with tinsel and popcorn and candles? No. Most state laws forbid it, and the mighty orchestrated triple-pronged sales pitch makes Beethoven's B Minor 9th Symphony sound tinny and pale by comparison.
Even as a kid I couldn't figure out what frankincense was, must less myhrr, and as far as partridges in pear trees, that was something the girls' glee club sang about. But Christmas does have a certain rich baroque barbaric vitality. I admit frankly, openly, that I enjoy giving presents. Almost as much as I enjoy getting them, and that's a lot.
May what's wrong with our holidays is that they don't any longer actually celebrate things that are truly relevant to our everyday lives. Every celebration seems to be about an event or some person out of the far distant past, and it's really hard to relate personally to them. I would like to suggest an entire new set of national holidays that I am convinced would once again give our nation a sense of purpose and unity, the feeling that we are indeed a distinct, fully-realized nationality and not just a bunch of foreigners gathered together to make a buck. These holidays would not only provide us with a day of celebration, but also a day of psychological release, which is what a good holiday should provide. So I suggest that the President proclaim the following holidays:
1 NATIONAL NO-FAULT DIVORCE DAY
Since almost half of our population has been divorced at least once, this is a sorely needed holiday. A day of na-
tional observance of the joy and freedom of the Divorce could be celebrated by exchanging colorful cards to ex-mates, naturally the exchange of expensive gifts particularly weapons of all sorts, and those who are not yet divorced but are contemplating it could take advantage of the Presidential decree of No Fault on this special holiday. Appropriate songs, dances, and possibly even parades commemorating Divorce through the ages, with attendant television coverage. Naturally, it would be a day of no work; banks closed. This is particularly important since banks are usually very closely allied to the Divorce process.
2 CURT GOWDY DAY
A day on which all regular television programming on all networks, including commercials, is cancelled to celebrate and honor the national preoccupation with professional sports. All day, from sign-on to sign-off, the air would be filled with old golf matches, baseball games, football games, soccer matches; anything narrated and described play-by-play by Curt Gowdy. In some other parts of the country, this could be dubbed HOWARD COSELL DAY. This entire holiday would naturally be backed by the National Association of Breweries and would be celebrated by the incessant popping of beer cans and the continual crunch of Frito-Lays. This holiday would be an instant hit.
3 GUILT DAY
Since most Americans are burdened with an unreasonable, mysterious sense of guilt this holiday could very well become a major national event, proclaimed by the President that on this day all persons feeling guilt of any kind can openly parade it, discuss it, weep, tear their hair, with no repercussions whatsoever, and in fact will be applauded for doing so. Costumes consisting of tastefully-cut sackcloth and ashes would be worn to Guilt parties, commonly known as Breast Beatings. Naturally, thousands of analysts would preside over the services and National Guilt Day would not only have a cleansing effect on the psyche of the country but could also be turned to good commercial gain. Department stores would be encouraged to run Guilt Sales where special buys in notably shoddy merchandise would be held and the buyer would buy out of sheer masochism, letting himself go, as it were, on this one day of the year.
4 NATIONAL ENMITY WEEK
Brotherhood Week has been a total flop. The time has come to frankly and openly admit it. During National Enmity Week all groups, blocs, militant organizations, and other creative and helpful elements of our population would be given at last a chance to honestly state their true views with no fear of retribution or other official and unofficial harassment. "SCREW THE LANDLORDS" "FIRE A WASP TODAY" "WHO NEEDS WOODY ALLEN?" and thousands of other honest slogans would be proudly worn on buttons and displayed on colorful posters by both in dividuals and groups. This week of total candor could well bring us together as no other device has yet done.
5 THROW OUT THAT DAMN MODEL AIRPLANE KIT DAY
This holiday is inevitable. It will have to be created eventually. There are millions upon millions of poor hapless people in this great land of ours who have, tucked away in closets or hidden under workbenches, unfinished projects which were started years ago in a moment of exhuberant recklessness and now will never be finished; hence are causing nagging feelings of failure as well as taking up a hell of a lot of house room. Half-completed ship models, plastic zeppelin kits, home-made harpsichords, looms upon which no one ever did or ever will "weave that great Swedish rug for the dining room," expensive guitars bought in a moment of Folk enthusiasm only to be cast aside when the fingers began to ache and the discovery that anything beyond a G minor chord was impossible to play by the human hand. All this junk would be purged from our lives on National Throw Out That Damned Model Airplane Kit Day. The unfinished albatrosses would be placed on the curb at nightfall and during the night, like the Tooth Fairy, trucks would roam the cities removing all traces of our follies to be dumped far out at sea along with other waste products of our civilization.
6 ROBERT REDFORD DAY
All schools would be closed. No business would be transacted on this holiday celebrating the life and times and the birthdate of a true American saint. The wearing of Robert Redford medallions in silver and bronze as well as the public display of Robert Redford pictures in private homes and places of business and worship would be permitted. Since your average yahoo is far more interested in Robert Redford than in Abraham Lincoln, this holiday would provide the nation with much-needed symbolic heroes. Actors playing the part of Robert Redford would perform in school auditoriums, and children would be assigned the task of writing fan letters to Robert Redford as they once did to Santa Claus.
Naturally, there would have to be ELIZABETH TAYLOR DAY, which would be interchangeable with JACKIE ONASSIS DAY. The vast cult of Elizabeth Taylor and Jackie Onassis fanatics would thereby have a day to celebrate openly, publicly and with civic sanction the enshrinement of their heroines.
7 NATIONAL SUPERBOWL DAY
This holiday has already been a fact for some time. It simply hasn't yet been officially proclaimed. National Superbowl Day would provide a tremendous boon for the manufacturers of greeting cards, and the exchange of Superbowl Greetings would become mandatory much as Christmas cards used to be. The cards would read such sentimental verses as Once again the time draws near/Again the Superbowl is here/Packers Redskins Bears and Colts//Bengals Dolphins and Giants too/May this day find you and yours/Scoring a Grand Slam. This could easily become a four or even five day holiday, as I think in the future since the three day holiday has now come, the next step has to be the four and the five day celebration. We could begin with Superbowl Week.
These are just a very few of the holidays and Folk rituals which I could suggest that are guaranteed not only to bring our land closer together but also provide a rich bounty for merchandisers far beyond our pretty present day dreams. Thousands of regional holidays could spring up, following the old European custom of every fishing village celebrating its own patron saint and local hero:
RICHARD PETTY DAY for Alabama and Mississippi; MERLE HAGGARD DAY for Oklahoma and for soreheads everywhere; MUGGERS DAY for New York City, where everyone would be permitted to take part for a change and you would be allowed to symbolically mug your boss or your wife.
Yep, it just isn't easy to explain to the kids just who George Washington was or why Abraham Lincoln was important. It would be a hell of a lot easier to get them to hoist the flag for Paul Newman or get dewy-eyed over Joe Namath Day.
We are one nation, with liberty and justice for all. Let's just celebrate that."