My Fourth of July Experience is Just Ending

On July 4, I boarded my dogs for the night. In my neighborhood, fireworks and explosives start early -- about a week before the holiday -- as a kind of test run for the big night. Things go off here and there, nothing like the barrage of the Fourth, but varied (booms, bellows, cracks sharp as lightning) and unpredictable enough to jar my animals, one of whom hears just one noise and immediately seeks refuge in the bathtub. The level of fireworks and explosives in a neighborhood correlates exactly with economics: the more upscale a place, the quieter it is because fewer people are outdoors as a rule.

Wealthier people live indoors. The wealthiest places, like some areas of Pacific Palisades, don't even have sidewalks, I suppose because they don't want to encourage anybody, even residents, to even think about wandering outside for any length of time, to say nothing of going in the middle of the street to set off fireworks for hours on end. Nor do well-off neighborhoods have much in the way of streetlights, which seems counterintuitive (aren't all safe places supposed to be lit?) until you remember that upscale people like their privacy, and darkness assures that. Too, why would you need lights when you know with great certainty that you live in a safe place? Streetlights are demanded by people who live with a certain level of unease, who are always striving to keep chaos at bay. The wealthy are, psychologically speaking, post-chaos.

My neighbor's two dogs ran off on the Fourth, unable to cope with the chaos that takes over our neck of Inglewood when the sun goes down. I felt semi-responsible for one, Rex, a rescue that my husband brought home from a gas station late last year: a big, friendly, tri-colored shepherd/Lab puppy wearing a city-issued license (good news) with a number that turned out to be 17 years old (bewildering news). A tag from a dead letter office.

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My husband said he opened the door of his car and Rex jumped right in, expectant. Looking forward. My neighbor adopted him that afternoon. And now both he and my neighbor's other dog were gone. Tyrone tried not to show how distraught he obviously felt. He called me on my cell phone at the hotel where I had gone to board myself, essentially; I hate fireworks, too, the relentless noise. I have to get away. Maybe I also hate what the noise stands for, which to me isn't patriotic fervor but a frantic wish to be heard. Noise as protest. Screaming at the top of your lungs. Another reason why the wealthy don't need the kind of Fourth the way the less fortunate do. Here I was in the recently upgraded hotel mingling with tourists, pretending not to need any protest at all, just for a night. Making my own escape from this most alarming of holidays. "Don't worry," I told Tyrone. "We'll find them." There seemed to be nothing else to say.

They were found. One made it home in the morning, and, fittingly enough, I found Rex. Or I located him.

After sending out a neighborhood-wide email on Tyrone's behalf -- he doesn't have computer and he's not online -- a guy called me to say he had him. He lived around the corner from Tyrone but didn't know him. The miracle was that he worked for L.A. animal control, and when he saw Rex trotting down the street in a kind of panic at the bombs bursting in air, he knew how to crouch down and get him to come. He kept him in his yard three days, and was getting ready to take Rex to the shelter in South Central where he worked. And then he got my email. "His tag is 17 years old," he said, incredulously. Tyrone had never gotten him a new one. He says that he will now.

The neighbor who got Rex says he'd been a temporary worker at the shelter, and only now is being called in full time; the Fourth is a busy time for a place that houses runaway dogs. He seemed grateful for the work. He told me things about the work that were horrific, and made me wonder how he could take a wonderful, willing dog like Rex (to whom I could see he'd become more than a bit attached) to a shelter where he would have more than likely died. Would he have taken him before that happened? I didn't ask. I thanked him and led Rex away. I settled him in the garage, away from my own pack, until Tyrone could come get him. It felt like a redo of the initial rescue.

Outside, three days later, the fireworks had tailed off post-Fourth to just the occasional boom or crack from surrounding streets. Not from mine. Much better. But the dogs were still uneasy; in the garage, Rex lifted his big head at each one, not making a sound, remembering. The chaos was still with us.

About the Author

Journalist and op-ed columnist Erin Aubry Kaplan's first-person accounts of politics and identity in L.A., with an eye toward the city's African American community, appear weekly on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.
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