The first week of July, every year, the Lions Club Carnival rolls into town and takes over part of the athletic fields. As I type these words, I can hear the music of the rides. It's just loud enough for me to realize I don't know current, pop music - at all; but it's not so loud that turning on my own music wouldn't drown it out completely. I like being in the quiet of my office and knowing that not so far away people are attempting to pop balloons with darts, quiet their stomachs after a ride on the Zipper and eat cones of cotton candy without getting cobweb-like wisps of it through their hair.
Each year there's talk about how the carnival has gone down hill, or has grown a bit seedy, compared to years gone by. I've never been to a carnival, the travelling sort where the midway promises giant, overstuffed toys as reward for your skill (or luck), that hasn't been a bit dirty and let's just admit it, low class. That's just as much a part of the experience as fried dough, the clink of a lapbar absentmindedly shaken by an attendant and the whine of over-tired, over-stimulated little ones. On some level, I think the garish, loud, chaotic elements of the carnival are exactly its appeal. As a teen it seemed like Vegas. It's a different world from our orderly, everyday existence.
No matter what people's thoughts on the rides and the midway, I've never heard a word against the annual fireworks show. Not many towns in the area put on their own fireworks shows, being so close to Boston and the famous Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular. While no suburb could possibly compete with the show the Pops puts on, it's televised nationwide after all, I'll take the hometown experience every time.
Last night as the daylight started to fade, cars streamed into Lexington center. Troupes of families toting lawn chairs converged on Mass. Ave, making their way toward the high school. Many people with dogs or especially young children opted for the reduced vision, but increased space of watching from the Battle Green. Blankets formed little islands of color, with dogs, children and frisbees tumbling and racing in between.
Most years I plan fireworks night so I have time to walk to the carnival and stand in line for fried dough before finding a place to view the fireworks. But yesterday it dawned on me that it was already July and I hadn't had my favorite summer treat, a pretzel cone from Rancatore's. So I walked to Lexington center just as everyone else seemed to move away from it.
Rancatore's is a local, ice cream institution. I think I've mentioned here before, that they are one of the few places in town that stays open past 6pm. Year round, you can get your ice cream fix until 11pm; now that's civilization. Of course the best part of living in walking distance is their ever changing variety of ice cream and frozen yogurt flavors. Yesterday they weren't offering my favorite, the almond chocolate chip frozen yogurt in a pretzel cone, so I tried Peanut Butter Hydrox Cookie. The peanut butter flavor was mild, but very much like a Peanut Butter Cup and then the Hydrox bits were just a tad soft so they felt like part of the ice cream, rather than a crunchy shock. And then the cone. The flaky, salty goodness of a pretzel against the smoothness of the ice cream is perfection. I considered taking a picture of it for the blog, with a nice background of all the other people in line who that thought fireworks were best enjoyed with ice cream, but I was too busy enjoying mine.
Summer days make for great postcards, but I love summer nights. Summer nights invite you to stretch your day into the dark, to feel the cool grass between your toes, watch the fireflies dance and listen to the last calls of the birds as they drift off to sleep. Of course as I neared the high school and the carnival, those quieter summer scenes were replaced by the rhythmic screams of riders on the Pirate Ship and a group of teenage boys carrying what appeared to be plastic chairs from an elementary school, laughingly asking people if they needed a seat. Some families had staked out a parking space well in advance, and now sat on the roofs of their minivans eating snacks and awaiting the show.
A rogue firecracker went off from a neighboring street and the crowd cheered. In the quiet that followed a father could be heard saying soothingly, "That's what fireworks are. Just cover your ears and you'll like the next one". Seconds later a whistling sound filled the air and the show had begun.
As always, I was amazed to see how many people could resist the pull of a fireworks display and were actually walking away from the show (and toward the rides). A man to my left was watching the fireworks through his iPhone as he recorded a movie of it. On my other side was a photographer who frantically set up his tripod as the first rockets exploded, and sweared loudly when his camera instead of screwing onto the tripod, fell in the dust.
At that moment a scene from Eric Weiner's Geography of Bliss popped into my head. Weiner was in Bhutan, researching how a country so poor, could be so happy. A learned man asked him why he was always writing things down. "Just be", he said. " Just experience". Weiner copied down every word, then stopped, realizing the irony of the moment.
Was either of the men recording the fireworks, enjoying them as much as he would have if he'd watched the fireworks directly, rather than through a lense? And then I realized I was doing it too; I was composing blog drafts of the experience in my mind as it was happening rather than just experiencing it.
So I stopped.
I breathed in the acrid smoke. I felt the concussions of sound hit my chest. I watched the embers sizzle and snake across the sky.
And I smiled.